The horizon undone.
A bodice of butterflies
heather and pine.
No track of another, no trace.
The trail loops upward
over pebbled ravines, into the arc
of a circling hawk.
Above beech, chestnut, oak
thin ribbons of road, carts, taverns
the greasing of axles, and today’s purchase
of oil and flour,
a cobalt sky bends
to meet a band of fossil rock
—home of Apollo’s sunbeams
veins of melancholy
salt of poetry.
On the Corso, hide and seek goddesses
stroll the lordly warmth of Napoli, designer shades
net leggings, volume bras.
Where to set my easel?
On Toledo? Next to Virgil
in red plastic specs and silver shoes, dressed to retire
into the scheme of intrigue, sick of snobs and dandies
bookworms, wish they weres and wanna bes.
Where to unwrap my colored pencils?
Above the catacombs
on the streets of the old acropolis
among flatfoot Romans leaving the Temple
of Echoes for the unprincipled human parade?
Lovely orbs of cosmic dust.
Flurry of legs, baggy cuffs, skintight skirts—
Where to attach my eye?
Should I court a prolonged kiss, dribble squid ink
on expensive vellum, test my non success
jumping rope with little Helen of Troy?
Better to unfold my three-legged stool,
paint unrivaled strokes of breath and death
and undemanding skies, set out my alms bowl
in case some passing king happens by.
Where to fix my gaze?
On Diana, Laxmi, Hera
their unwrinkled features on display
in the public market?
I’m having trouble getting started.
Perhaps I’ll take my brush to the glowworms
in the foliage, crusty skulls of learning
buried under the altar where Santa Patrizia’s blood
liquifies every Tuesday after Mass.
Plein air painting—
in the heart of Napoli
beneath the vibrating windows of lovers
going up and down behind half-closed curtains
over Doña Zaza’s al gusto Delicatessen.
It’s time to get out
my soft-lead Palomino #2, scratch a narrative
iambic, go for broke, lay down with
the great granddaughter of Emperor Augustus
become the center of controversy.
Should I claim my praise,
squeeze a tube of lampblack between
the fingers of the pickpocket?
Buy a ricotta pie from the nun
guarding San Gregorio’s famous bone?
Splash a dollop of Ionian yellow
and paint the soccer shouts?
maybe a sweet amber glaze
for the Venus of Rags on the steps
of the Public Treasury?
What shape and color for these children
running free? Little saplings, tiny lamb’s ankles.
Mafia fathers with dark ties, waving kerchiefs
from gold-wheel limousines.
Out among the hungry
and the longing, the big bottomed
and the strong
A dusty outcast in a river of sun,
painter of gilded limbs, Delphic doublecross
an anonymous brush
where the ships come in.
Porta Nolana, Napoli
In sifting rain I board the ferry
behind a lady whose dress is all pockets
blue candles, zinc amulets, pink gladiolas.
Across the bay a chapel sits like a tavern
entombed with incense, rum, votive wax.
When I climb the steps and bow to the dark saint
in her alcove of honey and white sails,
doves burst into a wine-colored fan.
Here nobody is more than anybody else.
The bride purifying herself on the kneeler
wears see-through lace. A man bent like a weathervane
creates a breeze with his supplication.
A niña half hidden in her mother’s folds
gives me her eyes,
and with them her poverty.
Back on the sea, my head turns in circles, triumphs
with doubt, holds close these moments
where one soul becomes another
and a new self embarks.
Muelle de Luz
Each step over the land is a step inside. While tiny
lemon-colored flowers underfoot nod to each other, I roll a
pebble under my tongue, speak to stone, decode the calls of
canyon wren and thrush. A cliff edge rises, breathes with
electrons, ebbs with tidal waltz. What’s solid isn’t stone, only a
severed window of sky where we find hold. The body is brittle
air, sunlight, and blood; the universe a mineral-varnished
alcove carved with petroglyphs: spiral, solar flare,
dot-inside-circle, river-rippled memory path, a game animal
traveling beyond the limits of the imagination. We live in and
wander through geography that beckons with symbols for
another reality. Past and future don’t work so well here. The
land, the shape of ourselves in it, is circular. Timeless. That’s
what the rocks say. Following the ranger’s map, I seem to be
walking a straight line to the ancient site of Wijiji. But no, this is
a diaphanous trail, woven into the zodiac itself. Breathe it in,
breathe it out. A thousand years ago, the brochures don’t tell
you, is today
Inking the Brush
Moon drifts near, over the Río Conejos. Daybreak finds it gone,
swapped for a sunburst of peaks upside down in its current.
Splash my face in the flow, watch the water become divided by
a single boulder, regain shape as a spiraling vortex. Boil a
coffee, set out pigments, rinse brush in snowmelt, load the
hairs with ink, draw them across the page. Liquid vortices trail
out, dry into a musical score. Bubbles, flecks of carbon, beads of
light, braids of ink: the water’s rhythm. And that of heaven: the
Milky Way with all its capillary blinks flowing through the
cosmos. Ebb, curl, chime, thummp, tingg. Each curve and
aberration of the river’s shore gives the water new form and
timbre. Now a wave, a languid shallow, a spinning torrent, a
mud-sucking bog. River as time line: the course of life, water
moving faster in the middle than at the edges.
Deepening the gorge
the weightless curve
of the river.