Lawrence Rhu

Fast-Food Renaissance: A Diptych

1. School Pictures
That grammar school of courtesies
Where wit and beauty learned their trade
Upon Urbino’s windy hill—W. B. Yeats
The Student Union houses Barnes
& Noble and Pandini’s, side
by side, franchises of larger chains
decked out with reproductions on
the grandest scale. The Duke and Duchess,
portrayed by Piero, make striking
icons of Italianate fast food—
Federigo, warts and all,
with his notched nose; with her plucked brow
Battista Sforza—both enlarged
way way beyond the original
diptych’s size. Beyond the pizzas
and calzones: two whole Raphaels
and portions of The School of Athens.
Sanzio, his father, served the Duke
as his court painter, and he taught
his son some secrets of the art
he’d practice later in Perugia,
Florence, Rome. Across the room,
Agnolo and Maddalena Dati,
two Florentines, commissioned portraits
by Urbino’s rising star. In Rome
his work includes The School’s role models
for the business here at hand,
with Aristotle pointing down
and Plato up, amid that storied throng.
One portion features Raphael
himself, in profile, near Castiglione,
dressed as Zarathustra. He wrote
a portrait of Urbino’s court—
no Raphael in prose beyond
his means, but something of that kind,
which Yeats commends in verse and knows
one easily could do much worse.

2. Food Court
“Meal Plan Costs Tick Upward as Students Pay for More Than Food”
New York Times headline, December 5, 2015

A frugal Volunteer balks at the fees
members of UT’s student body pay
for meals he doesn’t need and can’t afford.
The corporation that supplies Pandini’s
has cut some kindred deals with local schools
to finance building projects. I didn’t mind
until they changed the wall art. The Duke
and Duchess now are gone. No matter. But gone
is Piero and all the Raphaels
and Castiglione dressed as Zarathustra!
Steaming fettucine, scampi, pizza,
Caesar salad have replaced the paintings.
Rather than wondering why Aristotle’s pointing
down and Plato up, philosophers nowadays
inquire whether the picture’s steaming or
the pasta, or is it pictured pasta steaming
pictured steam? Nearby dietitians
from Public Health gripe about calories
and fat displayed so gorgeously, while students
protest hidden costs and over-charging.
In vain I search for tall Pythagoras.
Nutritionists now widely advocate
his pre-Socratic plant-based whole-food diet.

Lawrence Rhu is the Todd Professor of the Italian Renaissance emeritus at the University of South Carolina. He has written books and essays about the American and European Renaissances, and he edited Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale for the Evans Shakespeare series from Cengage. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Two Rivers, South Florida Poetry Journal, Forma de Vida, Jogos Florais, Quorum, Fall Lines, Pinesong, and the Poetry Society of South Carolina Yearbook. In 2018-19, three of his poems received named awards from the Poetry Society of South Carolina. A fourth, “Reading Romance with a Lady Killer,” received the 2018 Faulkner-Wisdom Poetry Award from the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society in New Orleans. In 2019, his unpublished poetry collection, “Pre-owned Odyssey and Rented Rooms,” was runner-up for that Society’s Marble Faun Award. In 2020, Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies published or reprinted a dozen of his poems together with his essay on poetry and philosophy, “Other Minds and a Mind of One’s Own.”



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