Journal

722 posts

UPDATES ON A FREE VERSE LIFE

The Poetry of Escape

lawrence

What is it about travel? The urge to move, to discover, to see, is a poem unto itself. A rich vein worth mining.

Often travel is rooted in the psyche. Moving one’s home, restlessly, is a form of travel–only what are we fleeing? What are we seeking? Do we think we will be a new person if we find ourselves among strangers in a strange land? If we do, we forget (or deny) the “setting within.” You can escape place, yes, but you can never escape the topography of self.

All of these questions came to mind in Geoff Dyer’s book Out of Sheer Rage. Though it is ostensibly a book about D.H. Lawrence, it is about most anything but D.H. Lawrence, too. Still, Lawrence shadows the author (who shadows him) throughout and, at the end in Taos, New Mexico, Dyer wonders about Lawrence’s wandering soul:

“At various times Lawrence wondered why he had drifted so far from his inclination to sit tight: ‘What is it, makes one want to go away?’ ‘Why can’t one sit still?’ ‘Why does one create such discomfort for oneself!'”

In search of answers himself, Dyer purchases a discounted copy of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry at a nearby bookstore and pauses over her poem “Questions of Travel.” It is a moment all readers know well. A moment of synchronicity where we feel we were fated to open a book and read words which transect present preoccupations.

As summer grinds on with all its travel plans, I see new wisdom in Bishop’s poem myself. Dyer’s synchronicity becomes mine, yet another variation of the reader-writer transaction that ripples out to the forever-shores of reading. I especially love Bishop’s comparison of strange lands to a stage (“Is it right to be watching strangers in a play /in this strangest of theaters?”), as if the “real” of distant places is actually the “make-believe” to our foreign eyes–if only because our eyes cannot otherwise make sense of them and feel a need to write our own narratives.

Or maybe we don’t want to make sense of them at all. Maybe travel becomes the essence of escape that way. Thus, the strangers we see in a distant land become storybook cutouts from the distant land of our nostalgic pasts–ones that never really existed and still don’t, only we will them into existence as a panacea for all that hectors us in the hellbent humdrum of our daily lives.

As you read (or reread) Bishop, consider your own restless roots. See if you can find the “why” in yourself, photograph it, maybe, and look at it later, marveling at how different it looks from the perspective of time and experience.

 

“Questions of Travel” by Elizabeth Bishop

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
–For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren’t waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
— Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
— A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.

— Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr’dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages
— Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages.
— And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians’ speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

‘Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one’s room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there… No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?’

“No Poem Is Ever Ended…”

I am perversely attracted to philosophy books, but the rewards are few. As a rule, they speak their own language, which runs circles around mine. Straight talkers like Marcus Aurelius are one thing; trying to divine Descartes, Kant, and Heidegger another.

Barring philosophers, a good substitute for musing on the meaning of life has been reading collections of essays by poets. Give me a poet who is equally adept at prose and I am a happy man. Certainly this was true of a slew of Tony Hoagland books. Ditto Jane Hirshfield. And now I can add Mary Ruefle to the list.

Though I don’t know how she pronounces her name (is it “rueful” like a pot of rue?), Mary Ruefle’s poetic collection of speeches slash essays, Madness, Rack, and Honey, is a relaxing and thoughtful exercise in reading, especially if you enjoy embedded quotes.

The drill, then, goes like this: Mary adds quote to essay, Ken highlights and annotates said quote. What more could any writer (her) and reader (me) ask? Here are a few I have noted:

 

“Paul Valéry, the French poet and thinker, once said that no poem is ever ended, that every poem is merely abandoned.”

Comment: Any poet who has read his published poem realizes the truth in this. The itch to improve through revision cannot be satisfied.

 

“Paul Valéry also described his perception of first lines so vividly, and to my mind so accurately, that I have never forgotten it: the opening line of a poem, he said, is like finding a fruit on the ground, a piece of fallen fruit you have never seen before, and the poet’s task is to create the tree from which such a fruit would fall.”

Comment: There you have it. If you have tried but failed to write decent poetry, perhaps you should make like Johnny Appleseed and stop barking up the wrong tree.

 

The least used punctuation in all of poetry, Ruefle asserts, is the semicolon. Some poets think they should be all-out banned from poetry.

Comment: As noted by my faithful readers of these pages before, I oppose any banning of anything: dog poems, poems that use overused words like “dark” and “darkness,” even poems about cicadas (sorry, Sir Billy of Collins, but that rule is fit for fools).

 

Among the last words Emily Dickinson wrote (in a letter): “But it is growing damp and I must go in. Memory’s fog is rising.”

Comment: Those last four words are awesome. I loved them so much, I used them in the final poem (“Coda: Miss Emily Speaks”) of my third poetry collection, Reincarnation & Other Stimulants. BTW, I wonder if Emily D ever considered poetry?

 

Charles Simic once said, “The highest levels of consciousness are wordless.”

Comment: Strange for a man who made his living with words.

 

“Keats said only one thing was necessary to write good poetry: a feeling for light and shade.”

Comment: I like words like these because they are so cryptic. I can fashion one meaning from them, you another. It’s like getting a pencil to trace the exact spot where light ends and shade begins, then returning to find it the next day.

 

“Pablo Neruda warns us: ‘We must not overlook melancholy, the sentimentalism of another age, the perfect impure fruit whose marvels have been cast aside by the mania for pedantry: moonlight, the swan at dusk, ‘my beloved,’ are, beyond question, the elemental and essential matter of poetry. He who would flee from bad taste is riding for a fall.'”

Comment: Neruda creates a rule against rules (good), but isn’t this itself a rule (bad)? I leave you with that conundrum because, if you’re going to bang a drum, you can’t do better than a conundrum, thoughtful and chewy.

Quick Wrights (in the Key of James)

Sometimes James Wright in Eastern mode is all you need by way of meditative start to your day. Like “Trying to Pray”:

 

Trying to Pray
by James Wright

This time, I have left my body behind me, crying
In its dark thorns.
Still,
There are good things in this world.
It is dusk.
It is the good darkness
Of women’s hands that touch loaves.
The spirit of a tree begins to move.
I touch leaves.
I close my eyes, and think of water.

 

Restorative, no? Thinking of good things in the world (which we sometimes forget, especially if we read front pages of newspapers). Thinking of “good” darkness (which we often assume as inherently “bad”). But mostly thinking of women’s hands touching loaves. Simple. Nice. With the powder of flour tracing the wrinkles.

Here’s another quick Wright:

 

In the Cold House
by James Wright

I slept a few minutes ago,
Even though the stove has been out for hours.
I am growing old.
A bird cries in bare elder trees.

 

Very Li Po, that. The nature image at the end, reflecting back on his personal situation as a sleepy man in a cold house. Wonderful metaphor for old age, I think. And somehow, in both cases, good warm-up poems to read before you write your own.

…which I think I’ll do now.

 

 

 

Rogue Poems on the Lam

Charles Simic is of the camp that says poems, like characters in a novelist’s work, take on a life of their own minutes after written, quickly declaring independence from the poet-god that breathed life into their lungs.

It’s an expansive, capital-R Romantic notion, the type Dr. Frankenstein could relate to (if you forget, for a minute, that Dr. F’s “poem” was a monster hit with other lessons to teach).

Whether you believe your poems are independent states or not, it’s pretty to think so, and rather amusing, too. As evidence, you need only read Ellie Schoenfeld’s ode to other poets who, thanks to her imagination, take on lives of their own, too (“It’s…a-livvvvve!”).

Originally written in 2009 as part of her collection The Dark Honey: New and Used Poems, Schoenfeld’s poem, an ode to personification if ever there was one, was shared on yesterday’s Writer’s Almanac.

Let’s listen in here and see what poems (and rival poets) do when left to their own devices:

 

The Other Poet
by Ellie Schoenfeld

The poet explains exactly
what her poems are doing on a variety of levels.
I am jealously impressed.
My poems go places
but send no postcards––I have no idea
what they are doing. They do
whatever they want to.
I give them curfews
but they wake me in the middle
of the night, they interrupt meetings
and other situations where I have no time
for them. They hang on me
when I am on the phone.
They do not keep my secrets
and sometimes they lie.
They can be sullen and withdrawn
or explosively obscene.
I think my poems have problems with authority,
conduct disorders, attention deficit.
The other poet is like the parent
with the bumper sticker about their honor student
while I am speeding along
to get to the correctional facility
before visiting hours are over.
I try to give my poems direction.
They tell me they have cleaned their rooms
but we both know it’s not true.
After all these years of therapy
we still don’t understand each other.
I write a poem and think
“What the hell is that?!”

 

Humor is healthy, but humor popping the vitamins of truth can run circles around us. Rhomboids, too.

Still, if you cannot laugh at yourself, at your own obstinate writings, or at the whole danged microcosm called Poetry World (it runs by its own rules of physics, like your rogue poems), what business do you have filling white screens with briefly free verse?

I thought so.

The Ekphrastic Fantastic

Ekphrasis, according to The Oxford Classical Dictionary, means “the rhetorical description of a work of art.” And Edward Hirsch, in his hefty resource, A Poet’s Glossary, quotes Paul Valéry as saying, “We should apologize that we dare to speak about painting” in one breath, and, “There are important reasons for not keeping silent [since] all the arts live by words. Each work of art demand its response” in another.

Now that Paul has cleared that up, we writers might consider what it would be like to labor on a painting only to have a writer “interpret” it via ekphrastic poetry. Would we take umbrage? Would we be flattered?

Me, I’d be happy to invite all comers with their various interpretations, but the thing about ekphrastic poetry is that it yields a spectrum of styles and results. Some poems can blatantly interpret, sometimes taking obvious liberties because they can, while others are more delicately descriptive, as if it’s a game of “close your eyes and listen, my child, seeing if my words can’t paint as well as the master.”

Best for both purposes are puzzling paintings like Paul Delvaux’s Village of the Mermaids, which led to Lisel Mueller’s  poem “Paul Delvaux: The Village of the Mermaids.” Mueller’s poem asks (and implicitly creates) more questions than it states answers–for me, a valid purpose of ekphrastic poetry.

Mueller is our woman in Havana, so to speak, giving us a play-by-play of the curiosity she sees before her. Mermaids? These look like no mermaids Hans Christian Andersen (or, for that matter, Walt Disney) has ever conjured. They look like nuns. No. Like prostitutes, Mueller says. Such opposites are a graphic throwing out of the hands in confusion. They are also an invitation for the reader to find and scrutinize the painting as well. Which is it? And is the writer correct?

For Mueller, the lodestone of the painting is the man in black and in back. In stanza one, the words “The painter” come up right after this mystery man is mentioned, as if implying perhaps the painter himself is walking away. Or not, as wondered in stanza three, where the poet returns to the man in black, this time calling him the only “familiar figure” just after mentioning the date, 1942–a year sure to bring Hitler to mind. The man in black is “approaching the sea, / and he is small and walking away from us.”

“Small” could imply insignificant, unworthy, or helpless, all of which would send the poem in drastically different directions. What the poem gets right, and what serves the ekphrastic art perfectly, is how the poem echoes the painting’s mysterious nature. Mueller respects the painting by wondering while avoiding direct interpretations. Unless you, the reader, want to take the baton and finish the race yourself by interpreting Mueller’s poem and, by proxy, the painting, too.

But isn’t that what any museum patron can do, or should do, while staring at the original canvas? I think so, and therein lies a happy marriage of painting and writing, of art and art.

 

“Paul Delvaux: The Village of the Mermaids”

Oil on canvas, 1942 

by Lisel Mueller

Who is that man in black, walking
away from us into the distance?
The painter, they say, took a long time
finding his vision of the world.

The mermaids, if that is what they are
under their full-length skirts,
sit facing each other
all down the street, more of an alley,
in front of their gray row houses.
They all look the same, like a fair-haired
order of nuns, or like prostitutes
with chaste, identical faces.
How calm they are, with their vacant eyes,
their hands in laps that betray nothing.
Only one has scales on her dusky dress.

It is 1942; it is Europe,
and nothing fits. The one familiar figure
is the man in black approaching the sea,
and he is small and walking away from us.

 

 

So On and So Fourth of July

This prose poem, originally printed in Issue 14 of Unbroken Journal as well as in my second book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness, is half lark, half rant against all the usual suspects: (insert invective here) fireworks, drinking, general mayhem particular to colors red, white, and blue. Up side? Writing it helped pay for my annual dues to Curmudgeons Amalgamated Local 406.

American or not, curmudgeonly or not, red, white, or blue, too, or not — I’m wishing a Happy Fourth to all of my readers, regular of first-time!

 

IT’S THE FOURTH OF JULY

by Ken Craft

and he’s listening to Oh Say Can You See in a sea of runners and an awakening 8 a.m. heat. The blue smell of Ben-Gay on the mentholated old guys & Axe on the sun-venerating young guys & armpit on the just-rolled-out-of-bed lazy guys & no one’s run a New Balance step yet. The ellipsis after the song’s last line is always a chant of USA! USA! USA! from the fun-run campers who must not read (at least footnotes) because they never feel the wet hand of irony in that disunited “U” running down their body-painted backs.

Jesus, but he bolts when the pistol goes, heat or no. On the course, though, he is passed by sausage-heavy middle-aged men & oxy-huffing retired men & stick-legged kids & women of all stars & stripes. Begrudge not, says the Bible, so he celebrates their speed or their youth, their fat or their fair sex—whatever hare-bodied thing there is to celebrate.

That night, after the picnic-table splinters & charred cheeseburgers, after the fries & bottles of we’re-out-of-ketchup, the fireworks mushroom into night clouds & umbrellas rain down hiss & heat sparkle, made-in-China reds, whites & blues. He cranes his neck, the skies soured with smoke & sulfur, holding tight the hand of his sweetheart.

Then it’s blessed be bed, after the grande finds its finale, only he is wakened by more (USA!) fireworks up the street (USA!) at 11:30 p.m. Still the holiday, after all, ignited by the undoubtedly drunk, after all, because booze is God-Bless-America’s drug of choice, after all. The outdoors explodes until midnight & he’s had about all he can stand lying down & cursed be Thomas Jefferson anyway, with his noble agrarian society & its whiskey rebellions & its pursuits of happiness & its God-given rights & its who-the-hell-are-you-to-tell-me, question comma rhetorical.

You know how this ends: It’s insomnia again. In the shallow, post-patriotic hours of the Fifth of July. Come cock-crow morning, on his walk, Fido sniffs the empty nips & plastic fifths along the sandy shoulder of sleepy roads. There’s even a patriotic Bud box, hollowed-be-its-name, white stars emblazoned on the blue of its crumpled carcass.

God bless America, he tells it.

Space In the Middle of a Line

space

Poetry is ever-evolving. Sometimes what looks new (read: “prose poetry”) has actually been around a long time (read: since the 1840s). But what about space in the middle of a line? I see more and more of it. What does it mean? You can’t look it up in your Poet’s Glossary. I mean, where would you search? An entry for “line”? For “space”? For “blank”?

Maybe it’s the cool thing to do in poetry, like the latest fashion or name brand being worn by the popular kids in middle school. I don’t know. I am, as usual, behind the curve. Bewitched and bewildered. Late to the party.

So let’s try to figure it out together. Here is a segment from the title poem of Meghan O’Rourke’s collection, Sun in Days. I’ve enjoyed a lot of her work in the book, but some of the poems do this      sudden space thing. It’s like “we interrupt this poem to do the Star Trek space-the-final-frontier thing. We will get back to our regularly-scheduled line as soon as Scottie beams words down.”

 

from Part 2 of “Sun in Days’ by Meghan O’Rourke:

The pond near the house in Maine
where we lived for one year
to “get away” from the city        the pond
where the skaters        on Saturdays came,
red scarves        through white snow,
voices drawing near and         pulling
away, trees against the clouds.

 

My first thought was, “Ah. It’s a line break in the middle of a line, so as to avoid overly-short lines!” It was a Eureka moment. In O’Rourke’s lines above, this theory seems to work in the fifth line where you might not want to see a two-word line such as “red scarves.”

Or maybe the whole purpose of the space is to signal the reader to pause. This theory looks reasonable in line 3 where the gap between “city” and “the pond” serves as a logical place for a comma, perhaps. The problem with the theory, though, comes with line 4. Why would a reader pause between “skaters” and “on Saturdays came” when they logically flow together?

Is it like concrete poetry, then? Do we connect the white space to form something pleasing to the eye, a treasure-map secret to the poem’s meaning, possibly?

How about this–an invisible em dash there to point at and emphasize what follows?

As they say in the UK, I’m gobsmacked. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from trying to innovate. I’m considering trying some of this in my new work, so it might prove handy. And cutting-edge. And cooler than a penguin in Reykjavik.

But, to be boy-scout honest, I’d be spacing as another form of punctuation, is all. Space as hard period or semicolon. Space as soft comma or colon. Space as “OK, people, let’s take a quick breath    because we can.”

That’s it. Because we can. Poetic license strikes again     in a place with zero gravity yet.

“Finish the Wine in This Field of Air”

Look at any photograph of Jim Harrison and you might think him Charles Bukowski-like. Craggy and gruff. Cigarette burning between two fingers. No-nonsense poems that allow for the occasional nonsense, usually involving alcohol.

In sustained reading of Harrison’s poems in his book, Song of Unreason, however, I’d say he’s more of a nature guy like Frost, say, or Bly. Unlike Frost, though, there’s little in the way of form poems with meter and rhyme scheme. Just off the cuff stuff that looks easy but, of course, isn’t.

Here’s the lead-off poem in the collection that gives you an idea of his range:

 

Broom by Jim Harrison

To remember you’re alive
visit the cemetery of your father
at noon after you’ve made love
and are still wrapped in a mammalian
odor that you are forced to cherish.
Under each stone is someone’s inevitable
surprise, the unexpected death
of their biology that struggled hard, as it must.
Now to home without looking back,
enough is enough.
En route buy the best wine
you can afford and a dozen stiff brooms.
Have a few swallows then throw the furniture
out the window and begin sweeping.
Sweep until the walls are
bare of paint and at your feet sweep
until the floor disappears. Finish the wine
in this field of air, return to the cemetery
in evening and wind through the stones
a slow dance of your name visible only to birds.

Poems That End with a Question

dunn

Let’s hear it for poems that end with a question. Reason? Questions are more fun than statements. Questions better reflect life, which is, after all, nothing but a big question mark. Good question makers are much more inspiring to be around and to talk to than big pronouncement types who hit us with their ego-driven blah, blah, blahs like so many blasts of hubris in a growing balloon.

Last time out I discussed a New Yorker poem that gave me pause like so many big-glossy-winning poetic efforts do. You know, the type poem that has you saying, “Really?” to some imaginary editor with an imaginary dream job.

Today, though, I come not to bury Caesar but to praise him (move over Mark Antony). The Sept. 4, 2017, issue serves up a breezy philosophical piece by old friend Stephen Dunn, a poem that ends on a question that, like every good question, leaves you thinking. Have a look, why don’t you:

“The Inheritance”
by Stephen Dunn
 
You shouldn’t be surprised that the place
you always sought, and now have been given,
carries with it a certain disappointment.
Here you are, finally inside, and not a friend
in sight. The only gaiety that exists
is the gaiety you’ve brought with you,
and how little you had to bring.
The bougainvillea outside your front window,
like the gardener himself, has the look
of something that wants constant praise.
And the exposed wooden beams,
once a main attraction, now feel pretentious,
fit for someone other than you.
But it’s yours now and you suspect
you’ll be known by the paintings you hang,
the books you shelve, and no doubt
you need to speak about the wallpaper
as if it weren’t your fault. Perhaps that’s why
wherever you go these days
vanity has followed you like a clownish dog.
You’re thinking that with a house like this
you should throw a big party and invite
a Nick Carraway and ask him to bring
your dream girl, and would he please also
referee the uncertainties of the night?
You’re thinking that some fictional 
characters can be better friends
than real friends can ever be.
For weeks now your dreams have been
offering you their fractured truths.
You don’t know how to inhabit them yet,
and it might cost another fortune to find out.
Why not just try to settle in,
take your place, however undeserved,
among the fortunate? Why not trust 
that almost everyone, even in 
his own house, is a troubled guest?

 

Very cool, don’t you think? Especially if you consider your mind a “house” of sorts. We are all troubled guests in our short durations here, and just when we think we’ve stumbled upon the key to happiness, we are disabused of the notion in swift fashion.

Some people, for instance, think the key to happiness is a new start, as in moving away. They quickly discover, however, that you can’t move away from yourself. That “house” we call a mortal coil moves with you.

Money? An inheritance? It is to laugh. In that sense, Dunn’s poem is a cautionary laugh, a troubled, how-did-this-happen laugh.

I don’t know about you, but I like troubled poems, ones with furrowed brows, ones that finish in a questioning tone. It’s as if the poet brings up a problem in life and then hands it off. “Here,” he seems to say, giving it over like a meditation bead, “why don’t you chew this over for a bit.”

And so, we’re left with bougainvilleas and Carraway-less dreams that gently disturb us. Isn’t that what good poetry ending in questions do? Isn’t that one thing we ask of them?

How To Make the Old Seem New Again

Contrast. It’s such a wonderful tool, the sharpest and most precise, perhaps, in the writer’s toolbox. Finding examples isn’t difficult and reading them is not only easy but downright pleasant on the eyes.

Consider the minor misery of being a tourist. Obligated to go here and there, to see this and that, the weight of history or great art or imposing architecture on our shoulders.

It’s enough to make you feel like Atlas saddled with the world against his will. Or to cheer for the little guy who rebels in the great tradition of Mark Twain abroad.

Exhibit A today is a poem from my good friend (OK, we exchanged all of three e-mails, so good enough) George Bilgere.

 

Really Eternal City
by George Bilgere

After we’d walked for at least an hour,
heading toward the Vatican
on a broiling August day,
I began thinking about how long
the tour we’d signed up for was going to be,
and how many sacred things would be on view,
and how much complicated information
the guide would tell us about the ancient paintings
and Roman numerals and relics
and tombs and holy knuckle bones.

I knew it would all kind of just melt together
and congeal into one big lumpen mass
of guilt and suffering and miracles
and gloomy old men in sandals.

And as I was thinking this
we were passing through a shady little square
where a couple of bare-breasted marble nymphs
were playing in the fountain,
and there were no tour guides anywhere,
there was no suffering or crucifixions,
nor was there even one important name or date
I would have to try to remember.

And the cheap red wine at the sidewalk ristorante
where we ended up spending the afternoon
instead of going to the Vatican
was wonderful, even miraculous,
as was the spaghetti bolognese.

 

In the penultimate stanza, the tone begins to shift. It’s like the winter freeze’s first crack under the glory of an unseasonably warm March day. Mercy, then, for “bare-breasted marble nymphs…playing in the fountain.” And mercy for “no suffering or crucifixions” or important names or dates to remember, too.

Instead we see “cheap red wine at the sidewalk ristorante / where we ended up spending the afternoon / instead of going to the Vatican.”

It can’t help but be “wonderful, even miraculous, / as was the spaghetti bolognese.”

It’s a neat reminder that history and art and architecture are undoubtedly wonderful things, but nothing beats the prime pleasures of life: food and wine shared with the one you love.

Of course we knew that already, and of course it’s a most ordinary thought. But put in contrast to the rigors of touring the Vatican, it becomes new again.

Pass the contrast and the parmesan, in other words. Oh. And the bottle, too.