Ron Smith

Coda alla Vaccinara | A Dusting
August 9, 2014 Smith Ron

Coda alla Vaccinara

                        (Monte Testaccio)

Leo X was “Determined to make Rome the most cultured
city in Europe.” –Christopher Hibbert

The pedigree of honey
Does not concern the bee—
A clover, any time, to him
Is aristocracy.
–Emily Dickinson

 

 

From Keats’s grave, past the Paladiana and Coyote

nightclubs, I limped to the celebrated

ristorante, determined to play it safe this year,

gout-wise, and eat only ox tail, where twelve

months ago I had the intestines and the tripe

and the sweet, sweet testicles and paid,

as they say, the price. I like to think

this is where Pope Leo enjoyed orange-

throwing contests, whatever they might

have been. But I know this is where, in his

God-has-given-us-the-papacy-let-us-enjoy-it

frame of mind, that jolly, genial, generous fellow

loved with a special relish the game of the rolling

of the barrels down ancient Rome’s famous

trash heap.

 

The poor and the country folk liked Leo,

though they kept their distance, partly because

of the odor of his anal fistula. His advisors

mouth-breathed at the side of His Obesity, who

trembled with delight. Machiavelli smiled

almost genuinely as Il Papa squealed

and pounded his palms.

 

The barrels

gathered impressive speed clink-clanking down

one hundred and fifty feet of weed-sprouting

potsherds, amphorae so scrupulously broken, so

carefully stacked, convex into concave, century

after century, and the barrels out of the sky

making little landslides, small avalanches of

tumbling points and edges, and the people,

so many people, rushing to catch the pig-filled

barrels, risking some of their not-yet ruined faces,

risking the crushed sternum and the splintered ribs,

shattered arms, legs smashed to pieces—

Can you imagine how they came hurtling

down that commerce-created mountain, that

monument to the discipline of year upon year

of oil and wine from all over the Mediterranean?

This was not the running of the bulls, fleeing

from frightened, hugely pissed off beasts. This

was more like the drunks at Daytona trying

to catch the cars as they roared around the track.

 

“Some fun!” said Flannery’s Bobby Lee,

I thought, ungenerously. A mezzo of red

arrived and then my wife’s exquisite liver

and my steaming ox tail, so fat-sweet, so lush

with perfect pomodori and sprinkles of cioccolato.

When a barrel broke open, the terrified pig lit out

for any space not filled with a hungry grin,

and the pope’s litter, flush with his enormous

capacity for pleasure, rocked with, I suddenly

want to believe, a not-entirely unwholesome

hilarity, with, let’s say, a genuinely warm

fellow-feeling all the way back to the papal palace.

 

                                                           

A Dusting

 

The sun was the moon all morning,

the trees signatures of trees. Where

 

had you been, emptiness, my old friend?

 

Nary a cow, a single crater–white hole

in the luminous gray.

   I crossed the field, I re-

crossed the field. A dusting, as we say.

 

Footprints: waves, wavelengths:

 

A human being can’t go straight. I turn,

I begin.

Which is to say, I begin again.

Ron Smith, Poet Laureate of Virginia 2014–2016, is the author of four books, including Its Ghostly Workshop and The Humility of the Brutes, both from LSU Press. His poems have appeared in The Nation, Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, and many other periodicals and anthologies in North America and Europe. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts commissioned him to write ekphrastic poems for its 2018 exhibition “The Horse in Ancient Greek Art.”