Flying Over Lake Geneva
I don’t have to do anything
except look down and dream
of that summer of 1816
where Frankenstein was born
beside those crystal blue waters.
Three decades later Mary Shelley,
many years a widow,
wrote of a certain dusk:
how lake and mountains faded
as Shelley read to her,
his finely-bred sparrow’s voice
trilling the third canto from Childe Harold
fresh from the hand of Lord Byron,
their new friend catching his breath
in a rented villa nearby.
She remembered how quietly
the sitting room silted up with dusk.
She remembered how her dear Shelley’s
voice came fey and enduring as the first stars
while the iron law of mountains darkened.
“Would you like coffee or tea?”
I look up. She repeats the question.
“Tea, please,” I reply dutifully.
And look back down to the lake’s crystal face
sliding behind the right wing.
Greek Statue, Naples
A struck, white silence
washed by traffic noise
from the street below.
The museum will empty,
the lights go dark before
the first whisper to the gods.
When in Rome
In Basilica di San Giovanni Laterano in Rome
twenty-eight marble stairs rise to the Sancta Sanctorum,
a holy chapel.
These are the stairs Jesus walked to His trial, says the Church.
A few centuries later, the stairs were packed off to Rome.
(How stairs are packed off anywhere also remains a matter of faith).
To ascend those stairs means going upon one’s knees.
First we must wait in line with the mosaic of patient faces
watching those already on their knees ascend where,
in plain sight, they disappear into their deepest selves.
A five-minute walk away, The Resistance Museum,
site of former Gestapo Headquarters, is mostly untouristed.
Some two thousand souls passed through here. Mostly Jews.
Photographs and personal stories cover the walls.
One glass case protects a bloodstained white shirt.
Another case holds a petrified bread loaf carved
with coraggio mama —“courage mama.”
The torture rooms are small — little space was needed.
It’s easy to visit both places within an hour.
Less easy is to remain as you were: a tourist on earth.
Maui: Through the Binoculars
Twenty minutes ago
an extremely old, paper-white man
staggered into the surf.
Now he’s swimming way out,
his stroke slower than this sunset.
Or else he’s struggling.
Behind him rise the tawny mountains
of West Maui. He swims south,
parallel to lordly Halealakala
feathered by scarlet clouds.
The sun slips like an orange
beneath the quivering line
of the sea’s hard, blue horizon,
leaving behind a pastel sky of rose and yellow.
The old man swims deeper
into the darkening beauty
beyond my worry or wonder.
His old bones live.
October 2016: Two Months Before Hawaii’s Last Sugar Mill Closed on Maui
A pair of rusted stacks bleed smoke
like gashed skipjacks. The wind is obviously headed
toward the old plantation town of Wailuku.
The last sugar mill in the Islands,
a huge, scabrous vessel riding a green sea of cane,
is set to shut down come December.
A beat-up, white Nissan Sentra,
caked with the red dust of this world
pulls up to a tin shed in its shadow.
A slight, brown-skinned man in blue baseball cap
steps out of the shed. A tall white man swings
his legs out of the car as any cowboy would.
The man pulls his baseball cap tighter
against the wind as they head inside.
Old cars and pick-ups crowd the red dirt lot.
Two minutes pass and they step back out.
The man in the cap watches the Sentra
pick its way down the bumpy dirt lane
toward the paved, three-lane road,
then looks up to the Airbus,
the kind that brought me here,
roaring low towards Kahului
where the airport is set to expand.
And the mill still smokes toward Wailuku —
a town, the airline magazine said,
on the cusp of a comeback. Edging,
in fact, toward the bright eminence of “hip.”