At one of the tourist traps in Venice,
Alone for lunch, I watch a guide’s
Innocuous school of fish swim by,
Back up, swirl in, to nibble a bit,
Awash among the famous paintings
Before they head out for the icons—
Shrines whose outlines will dissolve in moonlight.

And where else have life and art become
So utterly as one that this not very good
Meal hastily set before me by a saint
With certain thuglike, endearing thumbs
Might be a still life for all the taste
It has, a still life by a second-rate
Dabbler over for the trade, or glass,

Or to study the artful glaze of still lifes
Hanging on a wall in the watery light
Spewed up from a canal at God knows what
Lucky hour of dispensation: a gleam,
Or a steady mirrorlike glint and flame,
The kind that twilight walks down steps for
Into the crowds of water at its feet.

This Issue

November 24, 1983