Italian Eclogues

for Joseph Brodsky


On the bright road to Rome, beyond Mantua,
there were reeds of rice, and I heard, in the wind’s elation,
the brown dogs of Latin panting alongside the car,
their shadows sliding on the verge in smooth translation,
past fields fenced by poplars, stone farms in character,
nouns from a schoolboy’s text, Vergilian, Horatian,
phrases from Ovid passing in a green blur
heading towards perspectives of noseless busts
open-mouthed ruins and roofless corridors
of Caesars whose second mantle is now the dust’s,
and this voice that rustles out of the reeds is yours.
To every line there is a time and a season.
You refreshed forms and stanzas, these cropped fields are
your stubble grating my cheeks with departure,
grey irises, your corn-wisps of hair blowing away,
say you haven’t vanished, you’re still in Italy.
Yeah. Very still. God. Still as the turning fields
of Lombardy, still as the white wastes of that prison
like pages erased by a regime. Though his landscape heals
the exile you shared with Naso, poetry is still treason
because it is truth. Your poplars spin in the sun.


Whir of a pigeon’s wings outside a wooden window,
the flutter of a fresh soul discarding the exhausted heart.
Sun touches the bell-towers. Clangour of the cinquecento,
at wave-slapped landingsvaporettos warp and depart
leaving the traveller’s shadow on the swaying stage
who looks at the glints of water that his ferry makes
like a comb through blonde hair that plaits after its passage,
or book covers enclosing the foam of their final page,
or whatever the whiteness that blinds me with its flakes
erasing pines and conifers. Joseph, why am I writing this
when you cannot read it? The windows of a book spine open
on a courtyard where every cupola is a practice
for your soul encircling the coined water of Venice
like a slate pigeon and the light hurts like rain.
Sunday. The bells of the campaniles’ deranged tolling
for you who felt this stone-laced city healed our sins
like the lion whose iron paw keeps our orb from rolling
under guardian wings. Craft with the necks of violins
and girls with the necks of gondolas were your province.
How ordained, on your birthday, to talk of you to Venice.
These days, in book stores I drift towards Biography,
my hand gliding over names with a pigeon’s opening claws.
The cupolas enclose their parentheses over the sea
beyond the lagoon. Off the ferry, your shade turns the corners
of a book, and stands at the end of perspective, waiting for me.


In this landscape of vines and hills you carried a theme
that travels across your raked stanzas, sweating the grapes

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