Strange, how I can see the hilltop town

lights many miles away and the headlights

of distant cars twinkling as they move down

switchback loopy roads—glittering stars

to the steady planetary glow of the towns.

But no, the planets move and so they are

the cars and the towns the fixed-star definers

of the sky: the hills are there and there. Strange,

to tell myself I am here, tonight, in Italy.

(I have to keep telling myself.) For I have seen

hills before and hilltop towns before. True

there are cypresses, tall thin shadows in this

deepening night, but I have seen stone houses

before and olive trees before. I have felt

gusty fall breezes before, seen cloud-shrouded

full moon before. I have drunk Italian wine

before. But on this chill night in this gusty breeze

under this cloud-shrouded moon, with the warm

light through the doorway of this stone house

above this olive grove (with this glass of Italian

wine in my hand), I know I am here, and am glad.


In Santa Croce with No Baedeker

Because the shadow always follows
we came wanting—or say, searching
for the contest wider and deeper
than the shallow rut we had worn,
that transitory quest. How deep
is the spring beneath the rubbish
that cumbers the world, puzzling
universe whose parts won’t fit
but over and again flings out
volcanic bits? (How they fall in
those old mosaics and we find them
not enough.)

Knowledge does not avail, nor does spirit
avail. Let us spread our thoughts
in the Tuscan sunlight and let them shrivel
for all they’re worth.

Yet here for the space between breath
and starshine we find peace: the lift
of a saint’s eyes, drape of marble mantle,
a row of ragged cypress on a golden hill;
the glowing coals we nurture
but can neither describe
nor explain, these priceless
works, our souls.


I am reading (again again) E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View and of course stole the poem’s title and many phrases therefrom. Wonderful book, always makes me think and naturally dream of Florence, which I will be visiting in less than a fortnight!

5 pm, Tuscan-dreaming

I yawn like a cat in balcony sun

or like the old lady I resemble

with my scarf-swathed head,

gold-buttoned sweater

humming to myself

after rain

I think I am almost ready

to claim these years that gather

on my hands, streak like morning

clouds through my hair

after all

I’m taking tea on a tray

(with almonds), talking to roses

(because they know how to answer),

learning to appreciate low speed

and elegance, medieval church bells,

shawl-draped sunning as a genuine

pastime, perfection of a light breeze

down-mountain when the last page

is turned, the next book

beyond fetching