Joseph Campana

Shot | Total Eclipse
July 24, 2017 Campana Joseph

from The Book of Life



October 29, 1971


Don’t be distracted by
the shot of Picasso,
the flesh sagging
its frame. No cubist,
this body aged 90:
the hands lively
because they could
still be. On the facing
page, a woman as old
as Picasso watches
the Portugal sun slip
from her grasping hands,
shadows painting craggy
walkways to eternity.
Soon, it will all be gone.
She wears black because
she knows it will be so.
Youth flees at the first
sign of trouble, which
is its charm. But this
is not the real story.
The real story can’t
begin at the end. Even
those wizened bodies
were once sweet, whole
if not wholesome, even
toothy, grinning like David
Cassidy holding his guitar
like every one in 1971
wanted to be held. Oh
David, imagine nothing
could ever be wrong
in the world, and you
might dance at the Shah’s
party, on the shores of
the Seychelles, with
anyone who never
felt as beautiful and
free as the foolish
tufts of your hair.
You were clear and
young and capable of
making a nation lose
its head. Should I be
sad, on a night like
this, that you were no
Picasso or that such
things can’t last?
Tonight it is so calm
I see before me all
that was once elusive.
I know and understand
the way longing withers
a body. Every train
passes with the same
insistence never to be
anything but young,
which is to be so
desperate to be loved,
you might do anything
for the men who promise,
in the night, they will
carve your willing flesh
into the shape you
know you deserve to be.



Total Eclipse


The world is ending
and all I can think of
is that song, that useless
song the unpopular girls
loved. Eighth grade,
the talent show, and
everyone wants to sing:
all the unpopular girls
who dance their pain
across the stage, hiking
up sequined tops that
refuse their awkward
bodies. My friends in
Dorset say darkness
won’t reach them,
they say they’ll drive
to Cornwall, to Land’s
End, to Wales to get
a sense of the end,
but all I think of is
that day in Montreal,
with you, on the bus.
I wasn’t even holding
your hand when a man
scowled and brushed
away the filth we carried
from the streets. Here
we are again, but the city
has changed. No one
sees nothing passing over.

Joseph Campana is a poet, arts critic, and scholar of Renaissance literature. He is the author of three collections of poetry, The Book of Faces (Graywolf, 2005), Natural Selections (Iowa, 2012), which received the Iowa Poetry Prize, and most recently the The Book of Life (Tupelo, 2019). His poetry appears in Slate, Kenyon Review, Poetry, Conjunctions, Guernica, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Colorado Review, while individual poems have won prizes from Prairie Schooner and the Southwest Review. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Houston Arts Alliance, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He has reviewed the arts, books, media and culture widely and is the author of dozens of scholarly essays on Renaissance literature and culture as well as The Pain of Reformation (Fordham, 2012) and the forthcoming Shakespeare’s Once and Future Child (Chicago, 2024). He teaches at Rice University where he is William Shakespeare Professor of English.