Then here in Lombardy, in December,
In buttoning up against the freezing
Rain, I have grudgingly done as instructed,
Re-treading young Faustina’s public route
Through the city’s streets and piazzas, all
With a catalogue of dusted monuments.
I found her at last, solemnly ensconced
At a table she was obliged to share
With strangers – a bizarre English couple
Irresolutely consulting a map –
The three thrown together in a café
Named after Vittorio II.
Insanely bored, Faustina put them right,
With an index finger tracing out
Their best first choice, from the five bronze doors
Of Il Duomo – ‘Here!’ – to the threshold
Of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
‘That’s over there!’ ‘Ah. Grazie mille.’
So the pair went, back to all beginnings
Here with the cathedral, so giving
Up to me their palely lamp-lit window space.
I cradled my cup of cappuccino,
Now under Faustina’s penetrating gaze,
She re-gloved and scarfed, and ready to go.
She remains as defiant as you warned,
If unwilling to malign her employers,
Whose patronage is at once liberal
And patrician, in a weird conflation
Of public duty and strictly private
Living – an assertion I can’t argue with.
I am just a phlegmatic northerner,
Brought to reflect on the extravagance
Of urban existence, but bound to say
Her argument is not with you – not yet.
She deals in generalities, in questions –
Centred on the fabric of our living here.
Her exception is, you do not understand
Youthful rebellions, in a metropolis
Whose founding generals and financiers
Sit astride the pavements everywhere,
Sculpted and statuesque – a living amber
Weathered over centuries of strife.
All is abstracted by that legacy,
Men’s ambitions sanified by art
And architecture, or dramatised
By operatic plots and arias –
Yet, the tabernacles of our tourist trade
Are also a lifelong sarcophagus.
First published in Horizon Review, issue 3