When things draw near, or happen, we perceive
nothing of them. Except what others bring us
we have no news of those who are alive.
—Dante, Inferno, X.103–5
snow down on the forest floor. Beyond the wood’s wet brake, the strangler fig coiling like a trellised tentacle,
a town lies level on a plain of palmetto and furze.
Its people walk
to the cadence of hymnals. Its streets are delicate as the glass valves of its factories.
At night, its parks
thicken with dandelion and sprays of false morel.
These people are civil:
coins fall from their hands in thick showers. They celebrate winter; they write
biographies of dead ancestors;
they harvest ice from the half-frozen ponds, which catch each morning’s sunlight
as if the eyes of Argus
were opening onto the dawn. The town, stubborn, clings to its plain like a barnacle:
the storm sweeps in
with its million-fingered waves, but even the tenements stand fast as stones.
The weapons are clean
and locked in the armory; the trophy heads are neatly piked in the campo.
I face the gashed forest
across its sea of furze. A few yellow rails break between us, their wings flashing
like tiny silk chasubles.
The factories’ smoke has filtered the sun to an orange wafer. If the sky is anything,
it is a kind of forgetting,
a way of erasing the twisted roots. They grow everywhere: a handful of soil finds them
knotted, like hair, in every direction,
sprawling and coiling, claiming the ground as their destination.