Today's poem is by Barbara Hamby

Ode to Augurs, Ogres, Acorns, and Two or Three Things That Have Been Eating at My Heart Like a Wolverine in a Time of Famine

So many birds are flying above my house it must mean
            something or how could the Romans
have built their roads and cities based on the movement
            of sparrows and falcons in the sky above
the Capitoline Hill, Caesars asking the augurs
            when they should cross the Rubicon, poison their wives,
conquer Asia Minor, and as geese cut across my sky in a sharp V
            or starlings swarm into the church tower at sunset
I can see how the Etruscans and later the Romans would look
            to the clouds and these last remnants of the dinosaurs
to help them make their way in the world, so I believe in birds
            as I believe in the mad woman on my street in Florence
who lifts her skirt to show her stuff to anyone
            who won't look away, or Merchino,
the tall gaunt man with a short torso who stalks down
            the Borgo la Croce like a savage medieval prince covered
with tattoos, and when he passes me as I leave our apartment
            or walk through the market, I feel as if he is pulling
the moment in a swirling tornado above his head,
            lifting me in its wake like a magician, though Fabio
tells me he has done time for armed robbery, which is a kind
            of sorcery in itself, evil magi of the passeggiata,
when Italians walk out before dinner arm in arm, boys with boys,
            girls with girls, couples old and middle aged,
all in the dying light. Or think of last fall when the three oak trees
            in our yard rained down a plague of acorns, pummeling
our roof all night as if a Nazi panzer division had popped through
            the fabric of time, though their bullets less malign,
and the squirrels so roly-poly that the cats could finally dream
            of catching them as Pharaoh dreamed of the seven fat cows
and the seven lean cows, foretelling the seven years of plenty
            and the seven years of famine, so what do the acorns mean
in their mysterious plentitude, if anything, because the world
            can trick you, as when I was driving toward New Orleans
on I-10, and in the gloaming the semis were bearing down
            on my little white Toyota as if they were ogres
from a fairy tale-giant, muscular killing machines, gobbling
            up everything in their path, though most of the drivers
were probably thinking about dinner or Kansas or turning the garage
            into a sunroom, so maybe the sparrows and acorns
are just sparrows and acorns and the glorious inhabitants
            of the streets around Santa Croce are not magis
and hag goddesses, though as I walk down the cobblestone
            street and the light casts its spell over the city
I seem to see something on the edges of my vision,
            a wolverine-masked earth sprite running
along the edges of any path I take as the sun sets in the dark
            woods. There's Leonardo trudging up Monte Cassine
to test his flying machine, Dante skulking away to Ravenna,
            all our crashes and exiles tearing at our hearts
like wild animals reminding us how far we are from home.

Copyright © 2014 Barbara Hamby All rights reserved
from On the Street of Divine Love
University of Pittsburgh Press
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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