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 Estes is the author of six books of poems, most recently Parole (Oberlin College Press, 2018). Her previous book, Enchantée (Oberlin, 2013), won the 2015 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize and the 2014 Audre Lorde Poetry Prize, and Tryst (Oberlin, 2009) was selected as one of two finalists for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. Her second book, Voice-Over, won the 2001 FIELD Poetry Prize and was also awarded the 2001 Alice Fay di Castagnola Prize from the Poetry Society of America. Her first book, The Uses of Passion, was the winner of the Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize. The recipient of many awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize and the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, she has also received fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.