Lost one evening under a wafer-white March
moon beating down like translucent
gluten, like a Venus, a milky wax
hanging on our gradual steps
down to the crossing under the quadrangle
of the Palatine.
“Father, who are you? Or morning mother?” You open
wide the roads grinding the salt and the wheat
for layer upon layer of hands, of feet, of heads counted apart.
May only blood run, flow down, round off
in spring cloudbursts, in murmuring arches,
streaming out in rivulets of red clay:
the San Giovanni was cresting, black mirror
of the Tiber Island, in Rome.
You had a road. It pointed like the battering ram
between the lashes, narcissus-throated; green unicorn
between the lashes. Wide open from the threshold,
which the red and gold broom sweeps in a circle,
the road echoes its voices hour after hour,
leaps, rolls, tolls.
Worse than mud. Swept out every theater of four
useless boards, and against the dark.
The skipping lamb descends from the moon
with its shorn tuft, with its gushing throat.
There was a smell of milk and wind that
evening. I could not move on with you
between the Arch of Janus and the Velabro.
I did not know, then, what truth and place
that was. But the moon was engulfing me
inside white mud, a blood of astragalus
hissed, “Order”: the four paws
pinned to the ground, the lamb was dripping ice
of cadaver and majestic marble.
Like the most solemn of beauties,
the huge wild beast had arched eyes,
We were so alone. Trash,
barriers. Laminated streets
darted underneath. No more
asphodel or holly up there. Pine-trees.
In the iron taste of that drifting inlet
of sky, a mad woman was stirring among whiffs
of rancid-furred cats. What treasure do you scratch
on these fat thresholds?
Where will you cage the birds, the blood, the waters,
and make yourself money? A counterfeit gold leaf,
this moon? O how alone,
how very alone at that moment, you and I.
Order began here.
It was not a candle exposed to the hurricanes.
It was not a battle for the waves.
From the swollen cornucopia of the earth,
infinite through millennia and
purified by blending and fire,
the tongues rose again dark. Paths of grottoes
in the memory, in braids of murmurs,
gurgling of truth under the moon,
meetings with every moon. A clay
swinging like a clock.
I could hear those tongues. Looking at you, I said, “Why
are there voices here, even too many, and yet the silence
is dreadful? This chalk
stabbing my wondrous heart
nails me here:
is it terror? I dreamed of it.
Different. It was a square garden
snatched from the people inside the waves.
It was green, changeable, noble.
There is the horror of the white here, the whitewash
of the soul.”
O those charred tongues! They stammer
like drums, throbs of earth.
And this moon draws them
and nourishes them!
Do they know now that the fire that drove them
to curse and sing, that cast them forth
from the tree,
moves with the wind like the tides,
a skin of air,
the belated ecstasy of the March moon?