A soundtrack dove would gargle
all day, gnats dangle their pulsing clusters
like water-balloons. And the ground
be overrun with ants and scarabs
rearranging the earth. Figs
about to touch ground from the most extended
branch would note
how the necropolis corrects dissolution
with architecture. How domes
rewrite hills, and fields, grown and cut,
reduce the river's pull
where gravity is quietest and most
conspiratorial, a drift
content that a single painter restore it
from allegory to realism. Clouds
would process their variations
across the countryside all day.
What both bird and butterfly did would go
by the same name. And that ecstasy
pouring from the stone would pass
through wheat's variations,
when the mower appeared mounting the hill,
its red dome and puff of smoke
so like the scythes of the painters.
Into the Wall
An anvil-shaped cloud
spreads its iron shadow
across the hill adjacent to our town.
As on a floor viewed upside down,
other clouds, in turn, suggest
figures of the moment,
requiring only the arrival
of the next bit of future to cancel
the suggestions. The struggle
is ancient: clouds' agon drives the painter
into the wall, attempting impossible
compressions proper to time beyond
a lifetime. Here, where the sound
of a scooter merges with a horsefly,
a pack of gnats beats up a swallow
until the next frame. Or the classical
head turns with its look
of a god disappearing into time:
things are as they are,
turning in middle air,
and as they will be,
emerging from the rock.
Wind carries off the slighter
birds, after which a purling of doves
adjusts the evening. An owl stands
quiet as a pine cone when a blade of light
breaches the hilltop and is gone. Behind me,
a compact car carries compact profiles
to town. Only a cloud, like a lipstick kiss
left on a mirror, offers
its supplemental farewell to the unbroken haze.
This is the final atmosphere
of a work day: not great bindings
but the modest affinities: bread
crossing the table,
as the jet engine overcomes the dove.
Like a equestrian act, a cloud
swivels, turns inside out, then rights
itself crossing Roman air space.
In the picture, Montale sits at a window,
smoking. Terrace candles,
in sympathy, blow smoke into
the air above the street. Appearance
distinguishes the party at Stephen's.
Will the Borghese come? The Agnelli?
Dr. Johnson said people were right in
public to prefer a duke to a genius
(though in secret hours they were
also right to steal off to please themselves).
Over the terrace, down in the street,
scooters streak by the methadone clinic.
In the next room, a fantastically tall
woman lifts a melon-cube to her lips.
Her head is ringed with acanthus leaves.
A poet is forced to deliver the story
of his life in dreamy self-parody.
Like a bid at cards, his "I was there,"
washes away, as wine does,
what the past itself had failed to do.
Smoke blows over the lip of the terrace.
Montale is looking out the window.
"Che ora e?" asks the lizard.
Of the four, two of the soldiers
face the viewer. Theirs are faces
belonging to citizens of the world.
The sensual body of one invites comparison
with Christ's body, which is inferior
and scarcely regardedeven as
it rises. Even by him. His being
is situated in the face, itself tired enough
to be abridged to eyes. The pull
of the world is so strong that
resurrection of the body
no longer counts as salvation.
The women, for example, who slept
with the soldier knew caresses were nothing
without the indolence of perishable love.
The other soldier, whose amiable goatee
hints at a sophistication and savoir faire
beyond his station, holds in both hands
his useless pike, whose point seems to
lance the side of the nearest tree.
On one arm hangs a drooping shield,
"SP" visible to the spectator, as if
even in Piero's time, one had only to add
et cetera to explain the derivation of force,
by degrees, from vegetable nature.
The other figures exist to supplement
sleep with blindness: while the left one
cradles his face in his hands to show
how weariness occludes awareness,
the other actually faces the god
but of course can see nothing except
the insides of his eyelids. One must say God
is not as fine as these figures who have,
by casual descent, let consciousness go
in return for their ordinary beauty.
At this, the eye wishes to true itself
like a carpenter's level, and rises to
the horizon extended from Christ's shoulders.
Two rows of trees close in, framing
him in an emblematic trapezoid.
To the row of young trees, Piero has
juxtaposed a mature row, suggesting,
because both lines slant centerwards,
that when the sequence of growth leaves off,
trees are free to become instruments
and signs with their own succession:
cross-to-crucifix providing the model.
Here at the painting's crux, thought
rises from the grave of thought,
asking: who else can wake
and move off from this sleep
from which gravity the cool,
weary Christ rises brandishing
the crudest of symbolstwo sticks
that pull him clear of the dead?