I’m sorry I didn’t comprehend sooner how threatening
I could be, testing positive, needing a room.
I’m sorry for condemning a hotel clerk and a pharmacist,
the latter who said he could call la polizia,
hurled like a curse. I’m not sorry
for liking the small town near the airport—
Tessera, a little piece of the big mosaic that was
Italy this year, where I learned to say mille grazie.
I’m sorry for the missed Fortuny Museum, a chartreuse scarf
I would have bought, pleated and perfect,
straight out of Proust, and I’m still sorry for no
gondola ride, no Guggenheim Museum,
though I’d paid for tickets, tucked in my bag.
I’m not sorry Easter was a balcony tolling
with many near and distant bells, a view across the lagoon
to Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore and a full
moon. I’m not sorry for escaping in my mind
with Henry James and Joseph Brodsky,
o watery city that is Venice, flooded or not, where
we might have walked as boon companions.
I’m sorry my husband and I didn’t explore the Dorsoduro,
fin of the fish, or is it high ridge? The roof-line
figurines nearby seemed to mock me. Some wore helmets or
hats, tools in hand. I’m not sorry for the airport shuttle, thirty-five
euro to test negative, both of us crying. I’m sorry for all
the traffic swooshing by but I’m not sorry
for the gum wrapper shining like silver, a soda can
glinting in sun, and for stout weeds coming up
purple and blue in a ditch, proclaiming the two of us
as passing royalty, sure we’d be escorted, wrinkled clothes or
not, dust, masks and all, onto a plane by angels. My last
glimpse of Tessera, there was a black cat crouching
in a field—following a butterfly’s orange path,
spectacular, ordinary, the afternoon before we lifted off.
Dostadning: Beginner’s Translation
Some words arrive with little music, some bring
three difficult syllables that sound rough
to your ears. Still, you repeat them, not
your language, sounding them out, trying
to wet syllables with your tongue and mouth,
adding moisture and maybe they’ll dance
or at least roll around. Dust is what you hear
first, and it’s ashes to ashes, dust to dust
lifting in a swirl, Ash Wednesday mornings
when the priest thumbed your forehead
with a cross, one you wore all day, silly pride
of elementary school belonging—my tribe.
Then ad, now you’re adding the scene where
you opened the flowered box from the pet
crematorium—gray stuff with flecks of white, bits
smaller than mustard seeds that could be bone.
What sorcery is this? Molly the Aussie dog
who ran and leaped, now inert particles, clay
that could be modeled into a fine bowl. Standing
in the vet office, you didn’t understand when
the clerk asked, “Group or individual ashes?”
Ning is the stuff of it, thingy tangibles of life:
hats, purses, shoes, bracelets and rings,
necklaces, books, boxes in the basement stuffed
with photos and notebooks, all the clothes that hang
in your closet, ghosts of who you were
once upon a time—in front of a class, or saying words
at a podium and mic, wearing a red silk
jacket. Reversible, other side black. Life, time,
both visualized as sand sifting through a funnel, narrowing down
to a point somewhere ahead. How long yet do I have?
The Swedish, a practical breed with economy
on their minds believe in a clean cupboard like
a conscience. Well ahead of your own demise, death-
cleaning, they call it. Go ahead, open your closet,
and pick up a red shoe.