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Five Poems

Two Cities

Nobody in Rome cares
that I have begun
to devour you.
In the hostel this morning
and again tonight.
Even on the basilica stairs
while the nuns pray inside.

Late fall is the time to begin
composing winter music—
when everything yearns
to be soft and lean.
At night the air
on the corner of Madison
and Fifty-seventh is faint
with hunger for snow.

Chartres Cathedral

The acolyte calls us each monster
when, for two francs, he unlocks the side gate.
Monsieur, you assure me
as we whisper through the dim interior.
Between the columns,
kaleidoscope windows flare in midday sun.
The glass here, they say,
is a blue found nowhere else.
Somewhere between deep Aegean
and Mary’s robe.
Back in late autumn light
we stroll medieval streets
until, in a small churchyard,
we are swallowed by a wedding party.
A man in a cap eddies with his fiddle.
The guests call out two unmarried sisters.
We dance and watch each other.
It’s impurities that make the blue unique—
a salting of ash in the kiln.

Scene from Bruges

From the bell tower, the city is an aquatint.
Rusted-hull roofs dry-docked for centuries
along the drab canals. Church steeple
pale as winter reed. Above us,
two peregrines nest behind the parapet.
Between the quarter-hour bells
their talons scrape the stone.
You could have written us like that.
Scraping out a life in this city.
Or any other. Far below us,
in the square, a woman is selling
the last Madonna lilies of summer.

Our Lady’s Juggler

after Glyn Philpot’s Le Jongleur de Notre Dame 1928

The cathedral made room for a juggler
because he was handsome in the light
of heaven. In front of the statue of Mary,
Mother of God, he threw everything
up into the air – grace, faith, and his own
lithe physique. Like Jesus, he performed
tricks with his body. Like Jesus, his sweat fell
to the ground like great drops of blood.
Not actual blood. A simile. Still,
he waited for the statue to embrace him.


after Giovanni Baglione

You painted the three men twice
in almost the same configuration.
First, the angel wears plate armour
and the devil’s head is turned away.
Later, the angel is dressed in silk
and the devil wears your enemy’s face.
Cupid remains naked in both paintings.
Explain to me again, my love,
the difference between jealousy
and envy. I remember
it has something to do
with a desire to possess.

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