Angie Estes

Che Fai Di Bello
September 15, 2011 Estes Angie

Che Fai Di Bello

 

They are burning the fields in

Assisi, unearthing tartufi from beneath Umbrian oaks

for the umpteenth time. So slow

 

they don’t even shuffle, black

and swelling, tartufi think

only of roots, just as the Islamic call

to prayer, adhān, is at the root

of the word permit, as in let someone

hear these words, for which

 

they will also need udun, the word

for ear. All summer

the hornworm curves forward

 

like summer—San Marzano, Brandywine, Sweet

Million, Jaune Flammeé—consuming its own

path while the white larvae of the wasp

 

cling to its back like saddlebags or unweaned

possums. The lily of

the valley, too, lifts white stones overhead,

 

climbing its green ladder

like Jacob’s Ladder at the gym, which we continue to

climb though never any higher, the way

 

St. Catherine’s head lifts forever

a half-step on the white marble slab

where she lies in Santa Maria sopra

 

Minerva, curls of stone enclosing

pink commas that held what she no longer

hears. And because she cannot speak

in Giovanni di Paolo’s painting, she holds out

her heart to Christ in order

to exchange it for his, a handful of red

 

in tempera and gold on wood:

Che fai di bello oggi, What are you doing

today, Italians ask when they meet

 

on the streets of Rome, What do you make

of the beautiful? Although

they’re dead, the damned can see the open

notes of the white-throated

sparrow notching the air like a pulse: the way

his throat moves, they say

of Dante, this one must be alive. It lay in the rain

this morning, across new

asphalt, a duller spot, cluster of dust the size

 

of a mouse I might not

have seen except for the pink ear, the sound

it made in my mind.

Angie Estessixth collection of poems, Parole, is forthcoming from Oberlin College Press in October 2018. Her previous book, Enchantée, won the 2015 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize, and Tryst was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.