To Vertumnus

He's no world traveler, roaming here or there,
But knows the neighboring hills like his right hand.

--Ovid, Metamorphoses


October sun answers the visitor's query,
lightly resolving why all the city's walls
are painted shades of yellow: by contrast
they heighten heaven, as gold tracing the pleats
lends a painted virgin's robe its depth.
Into that blue climbs the market's copper roof.
An artist studying the feral cats that flourish
atop the houses could scale its slope to watch.
Even from my lower perch, I spy one of the tribe
on her afternoon hunt. At a rainpipe's dislocated joint
she sniffs, then lowers gingerly into pose. When I cluck
across the piazza, she doesn't break her crouch to look,
but flicks me the flattened inside of her nearest ear.
It translates clearly as a human finger to the lips.


As the sun sets in November, it's easy to see
why there are so many yellow buildings here.
Licked by cirrus flames, the smelter's cauldron sky
casts the walls in gold with its furnace light.
That line of clerestory windows, burnished
just below the market's copper roof, must show
the evening star a rose-lensed kaleidoscope
of fruitstands and slowly milling heads below its slope.

Now on the roof next door, Signora Qualcuno
tucks in her tiny garden for the night.
She thins the rows of lettuce growing under frames
and diapers a dwarf Something-tree's roots
in plastic wrap--it's too dark to see its leaves or fruit.
The bulb above her sputters giddily with gnats.


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' sunlit 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 watertight. . .
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
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.

by V. Penelope Pelizzon

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