Ode to Money

by Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby

While looking at the frescoes of the life of St. Peter
in the Brancacci chapel in Florence,
I hear Megan say the theme of the series is money,
and I think, you could probably say the same
about most of our lives, having it, getting it,
spending it, hoarding it, lording it over others,
letting it slip through our fingers, and while most of us
are not usurers like Felice Brancacci,
who had to commission a chapel to avoid going to hell,
making ends meet is something that occupies
our minds from time to time, and if time is money,
is all money eternally present,
or is it the fourth dimension:
height, width, depth, and money?
I’m no Einstein, but I’d say yes, or why are money
and art thick as thieves,
and while Jesus said render unto Caesar
that which is Caesar’s and to God
that which is God’s, sometimes it’s not easy
to figure out which is which, or who is who,
as when Pope Pius made his deal with Hitler,
or when tax time rolls around, who’s god there,
you or the IRS? Because in the Brancacci Chapel,
when Jesus sends St. Peter out to fetch
a piece of gold from a fish’s mouth, I must say
the fish looks as surprised as anyone
he’s ejecting coins like a slot machine in Reno.
Most of us have to toil in pretty stony soil
to earn our daily bread, filling out forms,
counting money, sitting in meetings
so boring our brains turn to liquid
and drip out our ears, writing gorgeous
sentences for those who would not recognize
beauty if it announced itself
in full Louis XIV Sun King regalia
and handed out party favors.
Half the time I’m counting my cash
like Jacob Marley in hell
and the other half throwing it out the windows
of Cadillac convertibles while I cruise
through Memphis with Elvis. Oh, simoleons, spondulicks,
shekels, mazuma, what I wouldn’t give for a grand,
a C-note, a sawbuck, two bits, an IOU from anyone,
even Zelda Fitzgerald, who would probably not
be whispering “Waste not, want not,” or “A penny saved
is a penny earned” into my pearly ear.
In Rome looking at Caravaggio’s The Calling
of St. Matthew, there’s the money theme again
because Matthew and his repulsive cronies
are counting coins on a table as Jesus
holds out his hand to beckon the tax collector
into his doomed if divine fold,
and you’ve got to wonder what enticement
he could be offering such a one
as Matthew, because let’s face it,
he would not be saying to anybody, anyway,
any time, you gotta have money, honey,
if you wanna dance with me.

Last updated November 12, 2022