The fall of ’47 I was 25 and still living
in Viluta. What made me stay so long?
What made me linger in that nothing place,
that hamlet of ten houses?
I remember November rain then more
rain flooding the courtyard, the sloshy silence
of a sodden Sunday night, all the world sopping,
drip, dripping, except
for me, I am dry-eyed, I am a desert,
whatever the world is, I am not. The train
tracks beckoned me long ago when I was
still a virgin I wanted
my body shattered, torn and rendered
the way it rendered me.Three years since first
I saw N. on the small bridge over the Vila,
since first I heard the unbroken
crystal voice crying out to some unseen
friend, that lonesome calling an omen
of loss.Two and a half since that earthen
hut where he succumbed
to my desire, one year since my love
for him began to wane as his body
waxed, limbs thickening, maturing, his mouth
morphing into his mother’s mouth.
So I felt no true sense of regret when
N. left town before me. The last time I heard
from him was in a letter to Mother, who taught
him French, in a postscript
addressed to me: je vous pense avec tendresse.
Yet he bore all the weight of guilt, the leaden
burden of my sin. It’s not for nothing
these memories invade me
a quarter of a century later in the Eternal
City, in the wee hours when my desk lamp’s
the only light on via Eufrate, the only light
on the dark side of Earth.
It was the happiest, the saddest time in
my life, the glory of love, the horror
of war. The future was the past. Solely
the present mattered: that slow
walk on the dark road to San Pietro,
the moon above us, a scimitar,
slipping into a grove of acacias to kiss
unseen, safely to kiss.