V. Penelope Pelizzon
May 2005


To Vertumnus (an excerpt)


December, when the fog burns off, I remember why
so many buildings are painted yellow here. Outside,
behind the rooves, the clouds resemble hammered tin.
Gilt-foil walls, a balcony's wrought iron rail.
The old sacristy dome of San Lorenzo flashes
tiles lapped like fishscales, neat enough to number
had I time to count the details of the view.
A quiet that, in retrospect, seems presciently still
breaks like water's face at the first rock of church bells—
San Lorenzo, San Gaetano, Santa Maria del Fiore,
the other two Saint Marys (Novella and Maggiore)
—all set by different watches. For ten minutes, the hour
ripples across town. Time slows down. Or
picks up, is picked up, multiplied by the lead tongues.


In January, while the gutters rush with water, I try
recalling the houses' sun-lit yellow walls. Against my window
rain rain go away
blurs the oily glass.
One smear of light floats where the covered market
vanished into fog. A train passing Campo Marte
tosses off its virile hoot, but only the frailest wheezing
travels through the wet. Even the hawker’s barrows
trundled from the piazza splash, as if the swollen river
has cobbled the alley with fish. Overhead, busy
scratching in between the rooftiles and the ceiling
sifts a mist of plaster faintly down around my chair.
They say rats abandon doomed ships before they sink.
Damp as it is, then, at least this ark is water-tight...
or so my upstairs neighbors seem to think.


No fallen February snow to cast weak light
back at the walls' yellow, for days no sun
lifts their tinges above jaundice and tallow.
The green market-roof looks patina'd with mildew.
Carneval came and went. Now Lent hangs
its penitential shroud over the darkened streets.
Yet one law, older than punishment, commands:
these dawns, I've woken to a pair of swallows
whistling as they nest above my window ledge.
And today, discarded on the sill, I found
a shell mosaic, tesserae of the precise design
life itself broke through. I heard the vital,
piping brood and understood why the first Christians
fledged their Paraclete in the body of a bird.

                            Feste delle Donne

A change, a change altogether in March. High wind
wheels through the city, beating against the yellow walls,
shuddering windows in their frames so the market
itself, through the violently-shaken glass, seems to tremble.
Not a cloud softens the sky or shadows the piazza
where broken stems of mimosa lie, blown from the golden sprays
hung on every shop-door in honor of the feast.

Birds screel above, whipped by the unseen element.

Across the street, the invalid who thought she'd never greet
another spring sits at her windowsill. A gust
eddies her remaining hair. From here I watch her effort,
her shoulders heft and lowered with each breath. Yet
she smokes a cigarette, whose ash and plume the invisible
wind scatters, matter returning through fire to air.

From Nostos (Ohio University Press, 2000).