C. Dale Young
—after Léon Bonnat
First off, the wings were too perfect.
Second, that the angel is both pushing the man
with his left hand while embracing him with his right,
the angel’s right leg stretching away from the man while
the left one is anchored and wrapped between
the man’s legs, the angel’s pelvis locked to the man’s
left hip, only the man’s loincloth of fur separating them,
the angel hoisted from the ground by the man’s embrace—
nothing remotely erotic about this; nothing at all . . .
Both are muscular, though the man, who must be
named Jacob, is slightly more so. This embrace,
as we are told, is neither classical in its presentation
nor the least bit realistic; the man and the angel
are joined belly to chest, the sweat on their skins a glue.
I would be lying if I said I only noticed this casually,
the way Jacob’s lifting of the angel is counterbalanced by
the angel’s resistance, the way it almost looks like a dance.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited
by the sight of those two male bodies struggling:
in the museum of adolescence, this is hardly unexpected.
But it was the wings of the angel that irritated me.
The wings, like a mandarin fan, like that of
an oversized swan, were just too perfect. No one can
convince me that Bonnat did not study swans to paint
those wings. He must have. They are swans’ wings,
not the kind of wings that spring from between
shoulder blades, not the ones with tufts of gray feathers,
more quill-like than fan-like, wings like . . . well, like mine.
The curator droned on about the myth. So few of us knew
the story, this backlit story, lost in the desert ages ago.