Today's poem is by Jennifer Clarvoe
What She ThoughtWhat's poetry? Is it the fruits and vegetables and
marketplace of Campo dei Fiori, or
the statue of the martyr there?
[ . . . . ] The truth
is both, it's both I said.
Heather McHugh, "What He Thought"
But if this is an idea of truth as inclusive,
it's bigger than both marketplace and statue
it has to be at least as big as the billboard
towering over both of them: don't ask me
what it's selling: there's a sexy, tight-skirted
ass being grabbed by the right hand of a life-size
wooden dummy the woman is carrying
(with surprising lightness under her left arm,
his eyeless head peering around her hip
(her head, of course, is cropped out of the frame).
I don't know if it is an Italian
habit to see this or to ignore this, but I
fixate on the way the dummy's fingers
individually press, like Pluto's in Bernini's
"Rape of Proserpine," into her right
buttock. But more than that, it's poetry
in the trompe l'oeil billboard framing this one,
mimicking the real facade behind it:
ochre stucco, gray shutters, cream-colored trim
and from three trompe l'oeil windows, rainbow
PACE flags hang down, just like the ones
on adjacent buildings, except that these
don't flutter in the wind. And if something
smells a bit fishy here, it's because the best
view is from this corner of the market
where the fishseller's large brown hand is gutting
the white belly of an enormous fish,
then tossing it into a bin. I'm close enough
to hear the knife crick-cracking its way through
the next fish, to see his left hand up in under
the gills, the white "flesh / packed in like feathers"
(not unlike the Madonna del Parto, by Piero
della Francesca, the way the neat white seams
in the front of her dress are beginning to pull apart).
He heaves that fish into the bin as well.
Elaine Scarry says that beauty prompts a copy
of itself, that generation is unceasing:
when the eye sees someone beautiful, the whole body
wants to reproduce the person, to do
justice to the seen. Directly under
the dummy billboard, there's a booth where one
can buy peace flags, along with diverse aprons
advertising fourteen shapes of pasta,
kinds of cheese, Italian wines, or featuring
trompe l'oeil torsos: nearly naked except
for black lace lingerie and garter belt,
or else full-frontal David. We're the species
that copies things because we love a joke.
We love the way a joke holds out the idea
of how things ought to be and uses that against us.
(One has to think the first joke went like this:
God made us in his image.) At the moment
everything in the Campo seems to tremble
with the heat, activity, and too many visual
rhymes, games, silly questionsbecause we are
the species always asking questions, just
to try them outI have to remember what
I came for: tomatoes. Pomodori.
And my vegetable guy knows, without my asking,
to add the usual due foglie di basilico.
What's meaning? What's meaningful? Silly, but then
I'm thinking about the relationship (folie à deux),
between those leaves of basil and a basilica,
and then I'm remembering that "silly,"
because it takes us past the bounds of reason,
comes from "Seele," comes from the word for soul.
Copyright © 2007 Jennifer Clarvoe All rights reserved
from Southwest Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission
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