Pentimenti


(i)


I read the terza rima’s rise and fall.
Florence’s cobbled streets spoke
like a broken wheel, a halfhearted
inferno. We grow to know them well:
tabaccherias, coffee shops, the single
English bookstore. Bars. Our favorite’s
basemented and overpriced but the owner
covers classic rock songs every night:
Stones and Eagles, Beatles, Prince.
“Purple Rain” recalls you to this day.
We pay five euros for Chianti and a reason
to lean closer in the dark.

                          Noli me tangere, said Christ to Magdalene,
                          after the Resurrection. Touch me not.


We throng with tourists to see Francis’s tomb, glinting
in the candlelight under Assisi. In this country of churches
and catcalls, I think, there is nothing so worshipped
as a body denied. We keep our distance
from the ancient paintings. We kneel
at finger bones and foreskins.


(ii)


Through windows south of the Arno, we watch
a glassblower work. You blow glass back home
and tell me: he’s making beads. Heat first, you say,
to melt the glass, and then it’s buried in vermiculites
to cool. Annealed in the kiln and cooled again,
more slowly this time, by degrees.
The process makes it strong enough
to stand, this temperance by extremes.


                          So was I born as my own model first,
                          The model of myself; later would I
                          Be made more perfect.


A pentimento is a change made to a painting’s composition, from pentirsi—to repent. In art, in this place, error is a sin. Modern technology can see these changes, can show old coats of paint beneath the new. The early gestures of saints and angels, gods and nymphs, under the ones we know.


(iii)


The hilled steps of Cinque Terre are steep
as purgatory’s. We climb the cliffs
from coast to town, and then descend
again—every day, the ocean down
below. A rush of plums in Monterosso
and the arbor overhead: we eat limes
whole and from the branch. We drink
white wine and hike light-headed.


                          The Church claims Magdalene later starved,
                          renounced the body she had gorged with love.
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