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"The Fly on Cardinal Bandinello Sauli's Left Knee" by Regina O' Melveny

from the painting Cardinal Bandinello Sauli,

His Secretary, and Two Geographers

by Sebastiano del Piombo


Invisible at first it springs to the eye, fly that sops the Cardinal’s paper-white pleats

for a spot of olive oil or anchovy scale or sweat seeping down from the holy thigh, speck

in the pudding, flaw in god’s little game of punto - no points unless you sweep the table clean.

Sebastiano, keeper of the Papal seal played at this long before physicist Genzel

in the dim auditorium projected a chart: Lifetime of Dark Mass Concentration

and imaged black hole Sgr-A* innermost region of the Milky Way where

the peak of absolute velocity dispersion indicates a cusp or accretion of matter

like the mole on the underside of my breast that I never see but feel pulled to touch

the spot my lover kisses, beauty and blemish

like the elegant fly whose palps sponge both sweet and foul.


Meanwhile the geographers exhibit portolanos with every confidence,

terra incognita notwithstanding. The fly sweeps the wands of its antennae

at the universe and listens, listen. The New World is being discovered.

A black hole jitters in space. Cells are growing darkly beyond their boundaries.

Afterwards, alone in the room of my hotel in the dark that is not an Italian darkness,

hierarchies of loneliness befall me, boundless envoys of science and church

crowd in on me in audience with night, his eminence bundled in black damask

and watered ebon silk, ermine and Dutch woolen cloaks.

I finger the hem of everything I can’t quite grasp, the rich brocade of false gods,

the frayed flax of the servant’s sleeve outside the portrait’s frame,

the tweed of the twentieth-century theorist, the velvets of the geographers,

those illusionists, historians of truth woven with threads of avarice.


Yet the artist’s beautiful democracy aligns all the heads except

for the Cardinal’s pinched red cap that rests slightly lower than his secretary’s nod,

his geographers’ plain conversant profiles. All nearly equal then

in assignation with the one who has the smallest portrait of all.

The exquisite grotesque, because provocateur, is the object of my love

and alone withstands pretense. Just as I’m about to fly apart, I collapse

and just as I contract, I break up on the shoal of the cartographer’s errors

of faith, assumptions toward landfall, safe harbor.

No maps without monstrosities, seas without their gaping Barbary apes

where event horizons spill black disorder from the discus

edges of the world, leaving only the boltzmon, little ball-bearing

imploded memory of every state of matter that ever hit it willy-nilly or not.

* (SgrA*) - a reference to the black hole’s location in the constellation Sagittarius

Regina O' Melveny is a writer and artist whose award-winning poetry and prose have been anthologized and widely published in literary magazines such as The Bellingham Review, The Sun, West Marin Review, Solo, and Barrow Street. Her long poem, Fireflies, won the Conflux Press Poetry Award and was published as an artist's book designed by Tania Baban. She has published three chapbooks, Secret, New and most recently, other gods, which won a prize from the Munster International Literary Centre in Cork, Ireland. Her manuscript Blue Wolves, a collection of poems with reproductions of her assemblages, won the Bright Hill Press poetry book award. Sheila-Na-Gig Editions released The Shape of Emptiness, her second full-length poetry book. Her novel, The Book of Madness and Cures, published by Little, Brown and Company was listed as one of the six best historical novels of the year 2012 by NPR. She has taught writing at Marymount College, the Palos Verdes Art Center and the South Coast Botanic Gardens. She lives in Rancho Palos Verdes with her husband.

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