At that hour when the onshore breeze
drove the waves of panting crystal
onward over the ribbed sand,
tugging their shadows beneath them
toward the pastel hotel,
and the light-shot shallows were marbled
with the first premonitions of autumn,
I said to the beach chair attendant,
to the one colored Etruscan red
with a boar’s head tattooed on his shoulder,
I said, as the ball of the sun
lowered itself moment by moment
with an almost erotic delay
toward the steep sides of an island
standing off on the horizon,
I said—Could you please tell me
the name of that island? And he smiled
and said to me—That is no island,
but the headland of Monte Circeo,
for the bay curves far past Terracina
to where, in one of forty-three caves,
the witch Circe lived with Odysseus
after he had eaten the lily leek,
the golden garlic, the Syrian rue,
and out of the vowels of its name,
she bore him a son, Telegonus,
who founded the city Praeneste,
where the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia
still lies open against the hillside
like the body of her the hero loved.
But the island, man—the island is in your mind.
By this time the sun was disappearing
into a kind of black crater,
and it made me want to cry out,
as the shadows climbed out of the sea
and color drained from the sides of the hotel,
so I turned to him, but the chairs were folded,
the sand cold, night coming on.
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