Coda alla Vaccinara
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
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
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
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.
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.
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,
Which is to say, I begin again.