Adolescence: Learning Shame

One of the many life-like sculptures created by John De Andrea

I hadn’t wanted to go.

Parents pulled me

from ants and pebbles, the solidity

of bark, leaf and wall

to hear breathing statues,

the silence of paintings, and


To three sculpted boys, nude

and playing soccer. They looked

so real, their knees

eternally bent, mid-kick.

My green eyes wandered

around the dark curves of body,

thin fingers reached

towards the smooth skin

the color of wet clay, and

I remembered sarsparilla

gingersnaps, fresh licorice

chocolate cakes.

Short fingers seeking

shapes and shadow-colors

caught in mid-air

in father’s hand trap,

No no, he said,

Don’t touch.

NOTE: I wish I had the actual image of the “Three Boys Playing Soccer” by John De Andrea. Seeing his sculpture is my earliest and most vivid memory of going to a museum. And while I searched everywhere to find a photo of it, I cold find none. It is spectacular and I urge people to see this lifelike work at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York.

What is your first memory of visiting a museum? How old were you? Who were you with? Were you inspired? Bored? Something else? What is the best museum you have ever visited?

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52 thoughts on “Adolescence: Learning Shame

    1. Hi Bumble Bumble! That isn’t the actual sculpture. The actual sculpture features three black boys, and it is stunning, but this is done by the same artist. He is magnificent. I just called the museum to see if they will send me a photo of the sculpture. Maybe they will be generous. This image — while stunning — really do the poem justice.

      1. Oh, I know this isn’t the one….still impressive though. It does look so real. It’s a bummer you can’t find the other one. I’ve been on a mad search for a video and it’s nowhere to be found! I hate when that happens.

        1. I hate when that happens! I am hoping the museum will send my a photo. It is remarkable. And this image doesn’t capture the innocence of the children. At. All. Maybe they will come through for me. Fingers crossed. (For both of us.)

  1. My earliest museum memory is of the wax museum in New Orleans, shortly after moving here when I was a petite jeune fille. I remember the vignette of the Casket Girls sent here from France during the 1700s to marry. The poor, virtuous girls were sent to live with the Ursuline nuns in the French Quarter until they could find husbands. I remember thinking how sad it must have been for them to have had to leave their families behind in France. Now I’m grateful, for it was through them that I came to be. 🙂

  2. My first memory of visiting a museum was with the Museu Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology) in Mexico City when I was just a kid.

    The museum was amazing. Aztec and Mayan parts of the museum were my favorites. The most memorable part of the visit was an exhibit that was on loan from another city in Mexico. This particular exhibit had some mummies that had been naturally mummified.

    I vividly remember staring at the body of this dead guy, not more than a foot from my face. The texture of the skin, the face frozen in time, and seeing a mummified penis at eye level all made for quite the memory.

    The reality of history really sunk in during that visit. It was amazing.

    I enjoyed this post, Renée. It could easily segue into discussions about nudity and puritanism in art/history.

    1. Thank you for you recollection, Zack. It doesn’t sound like you were freaked out at all by looking at the “dead guy,” but rather fascinated. And I agree the way people of different cultures handle nudity molds us tremendously. I’m always fascinated WHY breasts must be covered on television. And butt cracks. So silly. We all have these parts. Is it better to have a big blur? We all know what is there. And, of course, making things forbidden always makes them more desirable, right? You are heading right toward my next piece on Adolescence: III.

      You so get me. 😉

      1. You are right, the dead guy didn’t freak me out at all.

        Nudity – don’t get me started. 😉 I have such a hard time with the puritan-esque view of nudity in this country. The blurring of breasts, nipples, butt cracks, and other body parts (just like you said) does more to inflame interest and curiosity in those parts.

        Forbidden fruit is ALWAYS more desireable.

        The Brazilian side of me just shakes his head, remembers fondly the freedom of corporal/physical expression, and wishes to go back home. The human body is amazing – a work of perfection.

        I look forward to your next piece. (I SOOO get you….)

  3. My first museum memory was when my dad took me to a Soviet art festival and I saw a copy of Michelangelo’s David. I remember being incredibly impressed with the beauty of his body and I embarked on a very long love affair with drawing bodies after that. I was seven at the time.

    1. Hi Olga. I love that you remember going to the museum with your father. I also remember being obsessed with drawing bodies for a time. I can’t imagine that my parents didn’t see what I was doing on all those pads of papers. But they never said or word. Or maybe they never noticed. Or maybe I sucked so hard they didn’t look like humans.

  4. I love this. Great poem. I was blown away at a museum in early 2009 when I went to London for work. I had a half a day of free time and went to the British Museum. When I walked into the Egyptian wing, my mouth dropped open. At first I thought “Oh no they didn’t!” but then I realized that at the time, had they not taken it, it would have been destroyed by looters or taken by someone else anyway. Also? They have the Parthenon there.

    1. I got to visit the British Museum a few years back. It was massive! I loved that Egyptian wing, too. Fabulous. We saw so many amazing museums in England and France. When I saw the Mona Lisa — how SMALL that painting is in real life — I was shocked by how much commotion she has caused.

  5. Oh, boy do I relate to learning shame at an early age. Love the imagery in your poem – I figured you were talented, but jeez, a poet, too! Lovely. I’ve never heard of this artist but I’m an immediate fan – powerful!

    I remember visiting Chicago’s Field Museum as a kid when the King Tut exhibit was first making rounds around the world. It was spectacular and exciting and fascinating – for 30 to 40 minutes. Then, I was done. And bored for the remaining 37.5 hours we spent there. I love visiting museums and while my attention span is slightly longer, I still do better with short visits.

    Hope you can find an image of the sculpture you remember. Sounds important!

    1. I remember the King Tut exhibit. It was like: Okay. There’s a sarcophagus. Done. I love Chicago! (Is that where you are?) The Museum of Modern Art is one of my favorites. Some of those paintings are positively enormous. You have no idea until you see the originals. So cool!

      1. I am in Chicago! And I love modern art! But the Art Institute is my favorite Chicago museum. I also love an artist named Joyce Polance (specializes in large paintings, mostly nudes). Have you ever seen/heard of her?

  6. The more I read your blog, the more I’m convince we need to hang out. I love your poetry, Renee! I used to write pages and pages of poems. Even skipped a year of journaling and only wrote poetry. Sometimes when I go back and read it I think I was brilliant, and other times I think had Anne Sexton issues…

    Anyway, you inspire me. My first memory of a museum – not so transcendental as yours. My hometown has a dairy shrine. Yep. My first memories involve old moving mannequins that milk cows and churn butter while feeding baby her morning breakfast. It’s still there, but the mannequins don’t move anymore and they re-recorded all the tour info. It’s so not as cool now. LOL

    1. Hahaha! I love that your first memory is of the dairy shrine! Although, being from Upstate New York, you should know we take our dairy products very seriously around these parts. At the State Fair each year, there are enormous butter sculptures! Fantastic! Glad to know your museum is still there….even if the milking mannequins don’t work anymore! 😉

  7. I was trying to remember the first museum. I’m lucky to be in a part of the country where we have many. I want to say the first time I remember understanding art was at what is now the Getty Villa. (It used to be the only Getty museum there was – now there are two.)

    The sculptures and tiles always get to me, as do the every day implements that have survived for centuries. And the illuminated manuscripts!! Holy cowbell, I could look at those for HOURS.

    1. I think most writers have an appreciation for art. I know that looking at powerful images can get my hand moving. Your lucky to be in a place with lots of museums. We do, too. I may have to do more on this. Because seriously, we have some fantastic museums in Rochester.

  8. Syracuse is rather a long way for me to go to see the sculpture, lol, so I’ll just have to hope you get permission to show a pic of it here!

    I’m not certain of the first museum I was ever taken to, but it was either The Natural History Museum or The Museum of Childhood both of which I loved for two things in particular. The former for a huge tree trunk in the foyer (I think it’s been moved elsewhere now) that had turned into marble (fossilized) and at the latter it was the antique dolls houses! I adored them!

    1. I remember that tree! Has it really been moved? Oh, wow. I wonder why. Do you know? I’ve never even heard of The Museum of Childhood but be have the Strong National Museum of Play. They have everything from corn cob dolls to our most modern gadgets. It’s a fantastic place — and, of close 2/3 of the place is interactive. Like really hands on for kids. I used to take Tech once a week!

  9. What a terrific poem, Ms. S-J! Beautiful and evocative of so much…
    I live in an artsy, university, and historic seaport area near Boston and Portland and have visited cathedrals in NY and Ireland — and I’m not sure anything can beat natural art like Niagara Falls — so, although I’ve seen some stunning works, the Museum of Natural History in NYC was utterly fantastic! (Nude dinosaurs, okay; peeps, not so much — I blush!) I would love to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art someday. I had their catalog for years– art-lust at first sight! I ordered (and framed) a huge print of Pierre August Cot’s “The Swing.” Husband thought it hilarious that the duo was us… Also, if you’ve never visited the Web Gallery of Art online, you might want to look around in that site. Can enlarge the works to 200% and they offer enlarged details panels as well. You’ll be there for hours, though!

    1. Hi Carol! Visited the Falls this summer. And you are right. The falls are gorgeous, but I could do without all the tourism. Love the Museum of Natural History, though I don’t think I’ve ever made it through the entire place. It’s huge! I will check out the Web Gallery. Just what I need: another online addiction! 🙂

  10. Love your poem. Beautiful descriptiveness. Growing up in Chicagoland I know I went to the Field Museum and several others, but the first one to stand out in my mind is the Museum of Science and Industry. To this day that particular museum is my favorite.

  11. My Dad used to remind us all the time that we “look with our eyes, not our hands” before going into… well almost everywhere.
    So not surprisingly the first memory of a trip to a Museum was for the Excite science exhibition at the Hamilton Museum in New Zealand. Which had lots of hands on science based activities, I loved it and raced around trying all the different activites. I still love doing silly/fun science experiments. My favourite one was a few years ago playing with dry ice to show my class of 7 year olds about sublimation, so many fun things to do with it. Trying to keep the class from going mad with excitment was a little challenging though.

    1. I have accidentally set off alarms because sometimes I still reach out to touch things. What can I say? I’m tactile! I’d love to go to New Zealand, let alone a museum in New Zealand. It is a dream of mine. Is that where you are?

  12. I love your poetry, entering your young mind, during your first museum experience!

    My parents took me traveling all.the.time and I distinctly remember the shift from being bored to interested to realizing how different museums could be!

    Fabulous topic, writing, and squee! New space!!

    1. I didn’t recognize you as a squiggly monster icon! 😉 I imagine you got to go to many museums. Life for you must have been a little like living in a museum sometimes. I think all writers have an appreciation for art. It gets our brains moving. I know seeing a powerful image makes me want to write. Thanks for bopping by.

  13. How do you do it? You make me love poetry again!

    I guess one of my earliest museum memories is this nature museum where you could stick your hand in these boxes and try to guess what was inside. It was terrifying. My poem in haiku form might be:

    But I don’t wanna.
    Who’s paying for therapy?
    I’m gonna need it.

    1. Jules! Holy crap! We went for a nature hike today and they had those boxes! And Tech opened one and we found a dead bat inside. Soooooo gross. I now repeat your haiku, and he can open the boxes. I’ll hold the big stick. Will post about this. We took lots of pictures.

  14. Beautiful!

    Hmmm, my first museum trip was in elementary school…I remember peering into glass display cases. A man with a high-pitched, super-speed voice dressed in vintage-era clothing would point and explain each artifact. There were black and white photos of women frolicking at the beach in old-fashioned bathing suits and swim caps from the 1920s, clunky black telephones and carved Indian arrowheads. It seemed as if everything was standing still in time behind the glass. Museums are really amazing.

    1. Hi CK!

      I love the images you have created here. I can see everything. Perhaps the beginning of a post of your own, eh? I love how time really does stand still behind the glass. I think the reason I love this sculpture so much is that it is (was) right out in the open — not cordoned off or anything. It was irresistible. Like the image above, it was so lifelike, you just wanted to touch to be sure. Thanks for visiting me today! 🙂

  15. Renée … poetry too? And so fine? Reading this was like opening a beautifully-wrapped unexpected gift. Once again, you rock!
    My first museum memory is of a small, one-room wooden structure in a northern Ontario town and a pre-school daughter holding her father’s hand. The miners, of which my father was one, had created displays of the varied minerals they harvested from the depths. I just wanted to get to the snack bar at the other end. Looking back I appreciate their pride and desire to share their specific knowledge with others. The basis of any museum … grand or simple. Thanks for stirring the memories.

  16. I am in awe, a woman of many talents!

    We lived in Germany when I was a child, my parents dragged us through Museums, Castles, Galleries, Churches, Monasteries and anything and everything else of historical importance. There wasn’t a country in Europe we didn’t hit, a museum we didn’t drag our feet through or a castle we didn’t wander. Our favorite though was Fortress Hohensalzburg in Saltzburg, it is a huge and somewhat ugly thing sitting atop a hill, part fortress part church. But it had torture chambers, what else could bored children ask for!

  17. My first museum memory was standing in front of a case that contained two supposedly real shrunken heads. “Supposedly” because, well, this is Augusta, GA we’re talking about. I’ve since learned a lot about shrunken heads (don’t ask), so I’d like to go back again just to see if they really are real.

  18. Yeah, as a child I thought it was weird they took us to a museum where we couldn’t talk above a whisper. couldn’t run in the open spaces, slide down the long stair bannisters, OR TOUCH anything. You nailed it.

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