Bernardo Buontalenti

………. Students say they can’t tell the difference between irony
and sarcasm, but I can. Irony is when Barbara hands me
………. a jar of pickles and says, “I need a big strong man
to open this for me” when she knows I’m not a big
………. strong man at all, just myself. And at times like these,

………. she is very likely to further the compliment by calling me
“Davide Buontalenti” or “David Goodtalents” after
………. Bernardo Buontalenti, the Renaissance stage designer,
architect, theatrical designer, military engineer, artist,
………. mechanic, and mathematician, and this, too, is irony,

………. as I am none of these things. Now sarcasm is something
else entirely. Sarcasm is is when Barbara puts a second
………. scoop of ice cream in her bowl and I say, “Got enough
ice cream?”which is the sort of observation that
………. prompts her to ask me to characterize with some precision

………. the profit I mean to derive from speaking to her in such
a manner, to which I might reply that my incivility
………. gives me a genuine if limited sense of myself, as in
really limited, since the road to cuddles, picnics,
………. hand holding, back rubs, home-cooked meals,

………. and mutually gratifying conversation is not paved
with sarcasm. Still, my father had a gift for sarcasm,
………. so I tell myself that, when I manifest my own tendencies
in that area, I honor, not my father’s sarcasm,
………. but my father, for he too was a man of more than one

………. aspect. I’m nobody! said Emily Dickinson,
which she was, until she wasn’t, for who among us
………. is one thing only? We read great literature so we can
turn into other people, such as Odysseus, especially
………. when he returns to Ithaka and, upon discovering

………. that a gaggle of suitors is wowing faithful Penelope,
resolves to kick them all the way back to Cephalonia,
………. Corfu, Lefkada, Paxi, Zakynthos, Kythira,
and such other island kingdoms that they may have
………. come from, even as we think that in the same moment

………. that we should probably present out own backsides
for a thorough kicking by the hero, for who among us,
………. once reconciled to the fact that he has not been, is not,
and never will be Odysseus, would fail to present
………. himself to Penelope as an ideal replacement for

………. that epic personage, Penelope being not only wise but also,
according to Book 18 of The Odyssey, graced with
………. “the ambrosial loveliness that Venus wears.” Looks
aren’t everything. And neither are compliments.
………. If someone told you you’d be a good prostitute,

………. is that a compliment? They’re probably trying to say
you’re good-looking, but men don’t necessarily
………. choose prostitutes for their looks. In Castiglione’s Book
of the Courtier, one Sallaza dalla Pedrada is quoted
………. as complimenting a lady of a certain age by saying,

………. “Madame, your age serves merely to make you
like the angels, who are the first and thus the oldest
………. of the creatures God made,” which describes the lady
as old, which would not be good in many ladies’ minds,
………. but also angelic, and who’d argue with that? If I had

………. to change my name, I think I’d take that of 18th-century
English landscape architect Lancelot “Capability”
………. Brown. Ha, ha! Why not? “Lancelot” is almost enough
of a name in itself, then there’s “Capability,”
………. and the whole is softened and rounded off

………. by the salt-of-the-earth surname Brown, than which
few surnames are earthier. But why change
………. your name in the first place? I don’t know why Bernardo
Buontalenti did, seeing as how he was born Bernardo
………. delle Girandole, and “Girandole” means “pinwheels.”

David Kirby

David Kirby

David Kirby's collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” Kirby’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please.
David Kirby

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Author: David Kirby

David Kirby's collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” Kirby’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please.