Issue 166, Summer 2003
The Last Decade of the Fifteenth Century
Meriting slight praise alongside frescoes
still beading with perspiration from the hand
laboring there, a century dies.
Few seem particularly interested.
The shepherds pack their bread.
Piazzas fill with beneficent indifference.
Meanwhile the fork dominates tables,
relegating the hand to other trades:
covering the face; making bread, art.
In Francesco Rosselli’s Florentine study
of three candelabra in pen and ink—
brown water coloring, traces
of pencil on white paper—
notice the wide borders and false
starts for a new century. Ten years
and Venice will begin to sink,
enshrined in habitual negligence,
surrounded by sea, colorless.
Florence becomes her own sister
the less pretty in her perfection.
People are just starting to care
about England. But this is hearsay,
or heresy to the last few years,
the scintillating ones, when everything
seemed possible because everything would end.
Thus freed from the mighty pencil, figures
flew over the walls of museums
in a manner typifying Greek drama,
fine Swiss watchmanship, or the lazing
over a tourist meal in Venice:
one long, painful meditation
on the inevitable departure of time
from the very hands that created it.