Venice, November, 1966

With his head full of Shakespearean tempests
and old notions of poetic justice,
he was ready with his elegies
the day the ocean sailed into the square.
‘The sea,’ he wrote, 'is a forgiving element,
and history only the old odor of blood.
She will come to rest on the soft floor
of the world, barnacled like a great pirate ship,
and blind fish—mouthing like girls before a glass—
will bump, perhaps, San Marco’s brittle bones.’
Pleased with these images, he paused
and conjured visions of a wet apocalypse:
the blown church bobbing like a monstrous water toy,
Doge Dandolo’s bronze horses from Byzantium
pawing the black waves, incredulous pigeons
hovering like gulls over the drowning square,
mosaic saints floating gently to pieces.
Then he waited as the wind rose, as gondoliers
were rocking in the long furrows of their boats
and small waves licked the marble lions’ eyes.
But still this most improbable of cities
hung on, lewdly enjoying her own smell.
Learning later how Florence, with her brown bells,
her dried-up joke of a river, had played
the ark to all his fantasies of flood,
he felt a little foolish. He was walking
in the gallery then, thinking of the doges:
how they tread on clouds which puff and pucker
like the flesh of their fat Venetian whores;
how thanks to Tintoretto’s shrewd, old eyes,
they saw themselves amid the holy saints;
how shrewd, old Tintoretto, for a price,
painted his patrons into paradise.
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