for Allen Mandelbaum
A July evening, venti anni fa, the four of us:
Laura, Eileen, myself, moon-eyed New World pilgrims
on a Monday, in our Audi, with our delicious guide,
our Allen, up the steep mountain pass which leads
into Sulmona. Across from the Hotel Traffico
where we stayed that night, facing the Piazza
Venti Settembre, the only foreigners as far
as we could tell, loomed Ovid's bronzeblack statue.
Church bells rang their going on the evening air:
a semibasso eight followed by a flatter three.
The soft laughter of the strollers, arms about each
other, as it drifted on the hilltop currents.
All changed to air, thin air, except what Allen
taught me on that journey, not knowing he was teaching:
the exquisite patience of the man, this Englisher
of Homer, Virgil, Dante, & the moderns, straining hour
after hour for three baffled monoglots, so that
one might eat the bistecca of one's desire
rather than the tripe & ink squid one's language
had concocted. A kerchief dipped into the icy mountain
runnel & placed on Eileen's forehead, where we
had stopped beside the ruined farmhouse like the one
Horace speaks of in his letters, while I paced up
& down beside the car, clueless to her pain,
impatient for her color to return. The look
he flashed me then through those thick-rimmed glasses
which had seen so much, light blazing into darkness,
the way angels, he once told me, address each other.
As on the morning of our departure from Sulmona,
when I looked up from my coffee to catch him
standing there, his eyes already on his statue,
having crossed eighty generations to have it out
with that grand old polytheist, seachanging Ovid,
Sad-Seigneur-of-Scrutinists, his glittering,
redrimmed eyes aglint once more, while Ovid's
shifting bronzeblack surface glinted back.