We only ever truly see what we are missing.
That August night in 1328
Luigi Gonzaga brought to Mantua
an ache the size of a city and
a dagger for Rinaldo Bonacolsi.
Gonzaga had a mission: he saw
nine hundred gilded rooms
he and his line must build
and fill with all of Europe’s art –
a model city floating on four lakes,
a Mount Olympus rising from
the flatness of the valley of the Po.
We only ever truly see what we are missing.
Today we visited Gonzaga’s vision:
the palaces, the frescoes, statues,
tapestries, the churches, squares
and streets in all their glory and
grandezza. I was appreciative –
but I’m afraid it did not touch me.
We’d brought a different emptiness
to Mantua; and since it’s true
we only ever see what we are missing –
ah well: I only really saw the dogs.
I lift you up gently –
look, this is how we do it –
into the cradle of my arms.
I feel your solid weight,
breathe in your smell
of old dog asleep.
I carry you down
into the garden and
set you down softly
as I used to
for so many days
when you were alive
and let you go.
In each of our lives
everyone else is a tourist.
I wonder do they find
what the brochure promised:
sights, decent food, cheap booze –
or even the experience of a lifetime?
Back home, are they going to
print out their pictures
and hang them on empty walls?
Will they share the experience,
send others my way?
Should I consider refurbishing?
Though – they say the locals
in the summer resorts can’t wait
for the rains, the cool weather and
the shutters coming down for winter.
Sometimes I think I can almost
feel the weather turning.
and plagues modern.
Abuse of children, women.
Global warming. Exploitation. Genocide.
The horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding.
Gradations of blue in hill after hill at dusk.
A man, a woman, laughing in the street.
The casual kindness of a stranger.
The smell of bread baking.
A candle in a window.
A blackbird’s song.
Should I feel lost these days
I will unfold my trusty Ordnance Survey map –
brittle from many a soaking, sunshine, sweat;
and though it is coming apart at the creases,
and yellowish areas of terra incognita
are spreading out from frayed edges,
when I take off my glasses to peer
at the whorls, dots, cabbalistic symbols,
I think I can make out where I’m at – look:
miles north of this place called Despondency,
and – except for a ravine and some ridges –
not far, not so far south of Contentment at all.
so somewhere in China
a new kind of virus breeds
they say bats are involved
and open markets and now
it spreads and breeds
new verbs so now we’re
with the best of them
and all out of face masks
and the shelves empty of bog rolls
surely someone somewhere
must be sitting on millions of them
taking a gleeful crap
in the lap of luxury
the selfish asshole
and in the twilight
you walk the dog
the blinds are down and
the shutters closed
provoking medieval visions
how they’re all lying dead
behind those blind windows but
the day was absurdly clear and bright
and there’s a golden moon in the sky
and one golden star
he just stands there.
milky eyes unfocused.
sans teeth –
Whether he’s lost,
wondering where he’s at;
he’s following a fox
into the undergrowth
while you, helpless,
call his name
until he bursts from bushes
that he cannot tell you.
That is for you to decide.
Time to take the dog out
into pale sun.
Pleasant enough walking,
until we reach
the dark curtain of fir trees
where the path,
rising, turns to ice.
As if on cue the noon bell rings:
time to turn back.
After all, we’re no spring chickens;
we’ve been to that top before,
know that view;
why bother? After all, it’s only
the first day of a whole new year.
So we go on.
No hermit now at Patrishow
above the valley of the Grwyne Fawr.
The gifts left at the Holy Well
forlorn; the grey church silent.
Snail shells lie scattered on a stone.
The thrush who guards this place
has found a use for an old grave.
He hops from stone to branch, serene.
He knows we are just passing.
The asylum is vast and state-of-the-art
and you have to admire
the single-mindedness of the inmates
they spend every waking hour
computing arcane calculations
assembling monstrous machines
long after the sun has sunk and
the sane seek sleep
as the cold marble rolls
slowly across the sky
their restlessness increases
imagine their fierce dedication
only sometimes a yelp can be heard
or low keening or fully-fledged howl
imagine the terrible itching
of their coarse grey hide
when the sphere has grown full
it is true that abandoned children
cry for food and
fighting has started outside the walls
but you have to admire
the ruthlessness of their religion
and appreciate it is only thus
they can ever hope to succeed
in putting one of us
on the moon
July 20, 1969 – first man on the moon