after “Malfattori Impiccati,” an anonymous full-color
reproduction of Jacques Callot’s print “La Pendaison”
Under a sky as hazy-blue-polluted
As the late-August air in Rome, the clouds with the frayed hems
Of their white skirts dipped in smoke,
The birds with their dingy wingspans;
From an oak tree, its trunk warped
By a hundred years and more of wars
And storms, its lowest, thickest limbs stripped bare so as to give
the executioner more room to
String the ropes; in a death-burlesque
Of marionettes, their hands tied fast before them,
The frayed hems of their white shirts enthreaded
On the wind,
Twenty-one men are hanging.
CRUSHED BY THE SKY!
That would be the headline—; and every olive tree in this garden
Would weep its leaves, its silver-green-gray leaves, like a widow
Its glass when a rock sails through
It. I mean a window.
Shatter—, shatter—, say the bells
Of Santa Maria in Trastevere. When you’re lost, you’re gone
Say the birds. Dreadful sorry,
Say the clementines—
A perfect Wedgwood Jasper sky, a few high clouds in white
The giardinieri are cutting down one of the park’s older oaks.
Axe-thwack and chainsaw-
Rev. The thunk and crack
Of branches hitting brick and splitting. Crows shower out from the
oak’s listing crown
And black the sky
A moment before vanishing.
The sun so high and full over the garden.
And so bright.
Jay Hopler’s first book of poetry, Green Squall, won the 2005 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. His next book, The Abridged History of Rainfall, will be published by McSweeney’s in November. The recipient of numerous honors including fellowships and awards from the Great Lakes Colleges Association, the Lannan Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts & Letters/the American Academy in Rome, he teaches in the writing program at the University of South Florida.