To Isabella Franconati
After your husband died and the cypress trees,
which he described as “feathers,” constituting
“an evidence or inclination of God’s breath,”
were cut down and milled into wood for cigar boxes,
you closed the heavy blue shutters of his workroom
for the last time, the view unbearable that framed
his decades of silence in which he saw
in the brown river below, winding through its shallow
alluvial valley, the intractable force of his lost
conviction, reading as he did in everything
formulations of soul and spirit. To live
as long as you did in the shadow of a man no longer
casting a shadow brought forth a light from you
that outshone his solitude and which dispelled
your nostalgia for his former intensities.
That’s why you would not countenance
acolytes, like me, whose reverence for the time and place
of his self-making forgave what you suffering
his dissolution could not forgive, a man who broke
faith with all the tenets he’d devised for art,
whose failure in life, the hollowness of his days,
was another way for us to assume safely the peril
of his vocation. Unlike you, we began in disbelief
and so to be given faith, even an empty one, was a gift.
“After death,” he wrote, “there are two alternatives,
both heartless: memory & forgetfulness.” Franconati
was a made-up name and you, his friend, Isabella,
a made-up wife. I loved one of you before I loved you both.
memory or forgetfulness? In the long posthumous life
he bequeathed us, which came first?