“No Whistling at the Rembrandts” by Michael Patrick McSweeney

I stood in a brightly-lit exhibit room
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
admiring a painting formerly loved
as a Rembrandt masterpiece,

now remembered as a phenomenal fraud,
and whistling up and down
(you know the sound of shock and awe)
when a guard wearing a sharp gray suit,
an aesthetically-pleasing tie, and a face
that hated music told me not to whistle
at the Rembrandts; to "move along"
silently into the lantern-lit,
mahoghany-scented "American Exhibit"
where I was allowed to admire antique furniture,
tables of picturesque porcelain mythologies
and their grim, three-dimentional gods
in perfect togas; but unable to sing
and remember my love for those deep shadows
behind the white faces of dukes and wives,
or my love for the dried tears
of paint that gathered at the edges of portraits
in a shadow-brushed studio
while their creators smoked, or drank, or both.
To console myself I drifted into a darker stairwell,
loitering until a small child pointed out the window,
choking on delight and surprise
as a crane dipped it's neck, seized a building,
and lifted. I looked out to see what he saw
but was blinded by the mid-day sun
enflaming the metallic spine of the machine.
He shouted to his mother:
Oh my God, look at that! Oh my God!
His voice died away as I slipped
into a chamber of American sculpture:
your run-of-the-mill Roman gods.
There were students and academics everywhere,
commenting on the lack of humanity in ancient sculpture
while they sifted through text messages
or looked at something to avoid conversation;
and all of them missed what that child saw:
humility and smallness within the awe of great things.
Whistling under my breath, I fell in love
with an armless statue of Aphrodite.
Gathered around her were three artists
unable to paint; they could only write poems
they would never publish.
One was overweight, short
with large hands, a professional drawing board,
a sharp pencil, and a wrinkled face. He fashioned
the small of her back, the lithe curvature
of a goddess (or your lover).
He sat the farthest away, almost across the room.
The second looked pretty but bored
as she scribbled into a packet, answered questions
about the goddess and the function
of sculpture and art. Beside her, a sister
giggled about the statue's nakedness
until her older sibling seized her hand
and dragged her towards the pottery.
She looked at me and looked away, just as fast.
The third was awkward, yet stood the closest.
Beside him a beautiful pair of blonde eyes
chattered about periods of Roman sculpture,
and the subtle differences between ages
beyond their shared humanity.
They stood close like lovers,
yet he never looked into her eyes.
Only at her hands or shoes.
He held a map of the museum
and a mechanical pencil. His lover
squeezed his arm and told him she was leaving

to admire the Rembrandts, but he lingered,
telling her he would catch up.
His fingers moved quickly. Passionately
the pencil danced on the edge of the map,
and amongst ancient paragons of human beauty
he crafted a paper goddess of love.
I saw this—and whistled loudly.

Michael Patrick McSweeney is an artist and educator from the Boston region. His work has appeared in numerous journals and various regions of the Internet thanks to truly wonderful individuals. He is also the founder and chief financial officer of a used submarine conglomerate, the business website of which can be found at discountsubmarines.wordpress.com, and he hopes you have a great day.