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Published: Fri Apr 15 2005
Art: Paul TheriaultSwimmers (detail), 2019, acrylic and found paper on scavenged wood
Palladio

In the early morning hours, when the sun is still tender and silvery, when the shops are beginning to open and the pigeons are starting to mill about expectantly, scouring shiny paving stones for crumbs from last night’s revelry, the statue seems to brood its way further into darkness, as if aware of its distance from life, plans for new villas trapped within the stone of its brow. Sitting beneath it, in a jovial array on a marble bench, are ancient men in fedoras, all of them a prescribed distance
apart, like seagulls on a pier.

They are talking politics loudly, their sculpted hands knotted with thick veins. They seem bewildered by the moment they fell away from the ideal of big-headed David, bedroom-eyed in another city, but they’ve gone on anyway, cowed by time, feminized by exhaustion and age, talking a honeyed buzz accompanied by the briefest of sidelong glances, as the swifts wheel overhead and the clatter of lunch plates begins, a din that will not cease until 1 a.m. exactly, when all noise will stop, as if ordered to do so by an overseer who emerges from a nearby chapel to clap his evanescent palms. The men in fedoras will have disappeared by then, having followed the one womanly voice they heed back to the tangled garden of home and the fire that renews unworded life.

In the guano-fouled labyrinth of the basilica, the jeweller pens his Byzantine memoirs in gold filigree, leaning on a glass case that holds little swords beaten into bookmarks. Balancing perilously on a needle-thin pillar, the lion of Saint Mark softly growls in his sleep. Toward midnight, it will rain, strafing the windows of the notions store where pink plastic putti dangle among bolts of cloth. In the entranceway to the home of an architect, puddles will lap at the feet of sarcophagi whose carved, sinuous forms are slicked with light. Planters will fill with black water, and blacker water will drip from the ox skulls studding the mossy bridges, from the frowning faces of stone that stare out with unchanging fury, envious of everything that moves. Near dawn, the snub-nosed truck full of blue gelato from Padua will rumble slowly past saints who are drifting back to their churches, famished for the tarry, candled sepia within.

Tomorrow his crisp villas will be out in force, defended by a verdancy that defies the normal spectrum, a wattage of green bordering on the impossible. Delicate clouds will crisscross the sky, blueprint for a perfect dome he will never build.

See what's inside AGNI 61

K. E. Duffin is the author of the poetry collection King Vulture (University of Arkansas Press, 2005). Her poems and lyric essays have appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Crannóg, Poetry, AGNISlant, Zymbol, and elsewhere, and been cited as notable in The Best American Essays. She is also a painter and printmaker. (updated 10/2018)

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