Alex Steelsmith



In his frescoes at the Vatican, Raphael (1483-1520) depicted images of pagan symbolism and pre-Christian philosophers, scientists, and skeptics—including Plato, Aristotle, Heraclitus, Euclid the geometer, Ptolemy the astronomer, Diogenes the Cynic, and others whose views would have been at odds with Christian doctrines. According to art historian Fred Kleiner, Raphael’s Neoplatonic imagery achieves the remarkable feat of unifying, within the Vatican, “not only the Platonists and Aristotelians but also paganism and Christianity.”

Twiddilly diddilly,
Raphael Sanzio,
master of Italy,
scumbles and scrawls

secular imagery,
gracing, ironically,
Vatican walls.


The oddest pet I ever had
was Allison the alligator.
To get her up into my pad,
I had to use an allivator.

She loved all kinds of written works,
from Aeschylus to children’s stories.
Her tastes were broad; she had her quirks,
but favored classic alligories.

By “loved,” I mean devoured with glee.
When all my classic miscellanies
were gone, she ate On Liberty
and Reptiles of the Allighenies.

And then she gulped my Wittgenstein,
an epic bio (Tintoretto’s),
The World Is Round by Gertrude Stein,
and scores of Schubert’s alligrettos.

My neighbor’s books she also downed.
He sued, but all the litigations
were voided after lawyers found
she’d scoffed his written alligations.

A writer and fine artist, Alex Steelsmith has coauthored three nonfiction books and more than 200 articles that have appeared in various publications, including USA Today. His artwork has been shown in many museums and galleries, and is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.