AT THE SCUOLA DI SAN ROCCO
By Anne Babson
The gate guard greeted me “pronto,” not “buongiorno,”
As if I were afar off phoning, but there I
Stood, ecce homo. Years, this artist contributed
As dues a painting. He lived long. There are no blue
Periods. The vanishing point remains in
Place, never flattened by fattening fingers. The
Light and shadow dance to the same tune, as if all
Painted the same summer, with the same music on
The same club jams radio station blaring, but
The tune was caught in his head, not in the waves of
The Grand Canal – these the exorcisms thereof.
Today, critics would whine “Demoded; stuck in a
Rut.” Then, though, the rich lava moved with the cooling
Volcano weight of the dark velvet curtains dragged
Along marble. Then, here, the fastest path between
Two local points was a gondola punt through curved
Canals that intertwine like fingers folded in
Penitent prayer. Birth was cruel, ripping, literal,
No vaporetto trip down a curved, quaint canal,
Eve’s curse to these women in the heavy dresses.
Death, however, was only a metaphor for
A side-winding trip to purgatory or, for
One uninvolved in doge intrigues, a faster arc
Upward toward that light piercing the rain cloud. The school
Is shut but for these canvasses. Today, Turks like
Me shoot with cell phone cameras, post to Facebook,
Use a navigation tool that leads us away.
OVERHEARD ON THE PIAZZA DI SAN MARCO
I got Byron to come here with all his mincing
English words, and the place is still sinking. What does
Othello say? He’s out looking for a napkin.
And that merchant the palace compelled to convert?
He just looks out the window and sulks. And it’s still
Sinking? There’s a man—he inspired the Milanese
Railway’s architecture; You know – the dark tube that
Extends forever into the perspective line?
He’s not really our type, of course, but maybe he –
Oh, him? I remember him. Not him. He’s worse than
The Turks. The jackboots alone — And what about the
Americans? With all their optimism and
Money, why can’t they fill up the canals with some –
They don’t understand sinking. They deny global
Warming, even when the boring Vice President –
Wins the big prize. Americans like prizes but
Not bad news they can’t blame on one person. When their
Things sink over there, apparently, the glass is
Half-full. Anyway, they don’t have the mosaics,
The marbles, the brocades. Those Americans think
They can replace the plastic by the next weekend.
What if everyone in town just got in line,
Grabbed a few buckets and started bailing today?
Are you out of your mind? The Venetians never
Do things like that. We acknowledge the depth and breadth
Of the problem, develop a fatalistic
View of it. I come out here for a coffee with
You, for affirmation. I tell you it’s sinking.
Aren’t you my friend? We agree it’s hopeless, right?
We go home, wade upstairs, drop on our soggy beds
Like wet noodles. It’s sinking. Agree with me. It’s
Sinking. I’ve been reading a book, though, and it makes
Me wonder –
You’re no help at all. I’m going home. It’s sinking.
WHAT THIS POEM CANNOT DO
This poem cannot milk a cow. She will still low,
But the baby will nestle, gurgle and swallow.
This poem cannot chop an onion on TV.
Still, it slices, dices, and bitter fumes draw tears.
This poem cannot dig a hole, but if you’re trapped
Under something, suck its snorkel to keep breathing.
This poem cannot unload a Ford Focus trunk,
But it fords the Right Bank to the Left — just focus.
This poem cannot sell you shoes, not even flats.
It leaves you barefoot, scrunching surface with your toes.
This poem cannot change the world; it’s a tourist.
Its snap shots, though, shot on this spot, are of Eden.
PATMOS LYRIC #1
The first night here, the little bit of wine
I had smuggled in for communion. I
Drank, not because I was thirsty, but it
Seemed to me that this chalk pile was its own
Bone feast, the salt water a more honest
Rendering of false tears offered at the
Last Supper mimed with the parsley sprig dipped
In it to represent past worries. But
His blood? I look down at my scarred limbs still
Smelling of boiling oil, and I know that
The transubstantiation is just me
Here. I have been saved for service, a pot
Where water serves distant wedding guests
Miraculously, and my wounds, not His,
Evidence enough of resurrection –
After all, I have survived to write this.
What a pretty machine, what a proud vessel,
a gear oiled with sweet almond coconut butter,
wings pinned to pectoral — the bomb’s clock hands turning —
with hatches to open at grins and martinis,
battened down the cargo, the cargo, the cargo.
Dull blue gazes aiming like polished gun barrels,
pointing at what you wanted, staked out, pounced on, got —
no need to declare this was a stick up, no need
to batter your hostages — like glare-proof Ray-Bans,
weather-proofed the cargo, the cargo, the cargo.
You infiltrated like a locust swarm, silent,
a gorgeous nebula until you landed, a
tangle of twitching limbs on impact, unloading —
like a strafe of a gattling gun in a battle
packed with our proudest sons — the cargo, the cargo.
About the Author:
Anne Babson’s poetry collection The White Trash Pantheon (Vox Press, 2015) and her current chapbook, Poems Under Surveillance (Finishing Line Press, 2013) are currently available in independent bookstores and on Amazon. The opera for which she wrote the libretto, entitled Lotus Lives, was performed in the New York and elsewhere in 2012 and is currently being considered for broadcast by WGBH Boston, and another operatic work for which Anne wrote the libretto is tentatively slated for production in California in 2017. She was nominated for the Pushcart four times, and has been featured on Poetry Daily. her work has recently appeared in Iowa Review, Cider Press Review, Southampton Review, Bridges, Barrow Street, Connecticut Review, The Pikeville Review, Rio Grande Review, English Journal, New Song, The Penwood Review, Sow’s Ear, The Madison Review, Atlanta Review, Grasslands Review, WSQ, Global City Review, Comstock Review, California Quarterly, Wisconsin Review, The Red Rock Review, and many other publications. In Europe, her work has appeared in Current Accounts, Iota, Poetry Salzburg, Nth Position and in Ireland, she was in an issue of Crannóg. In Asia, she was published in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and Yuan Yang. She has been anthologized multiple times in both the US and the UK. She has done residencies at Yaddo and Vermont Studio Center.