Eleanor Wilner


Today, Pompeii—on view: the ultimate interruption,
permission to blame nature for the failure
to finish anything—to bake the bread, to put
the kids to bed on time, sew the tattered toga, ice
the wine, draw up your will, take the swill out back
to feed the pigs, do some small kindness to the poor,
write your senator (you hear that Rome's gone
rotten, and your taxes will be used for yet
another war) . . .
but never mind, when the smoke
and ash rain down, the mountain extending
its huge domain, the lava pouring in through
every door, night visiting by day—a final, solid
fact, the darkness closing down on the Poet's
House, her dog, and cave canem in mosaic tile
on the floor; that poem will not be written
she had planned, the one whose lines, so elegant,
when scanned, would make the mighty Virgil
weep with shame; the poem of 1,000 lines
that would be sung for 1,000 years—begun
just then, word one, it promised to make
effusive springs break forth from stone,
and warlike hearts repent their hardened ways,
and poor nostalgic Orpheus lay down his lyre
for good (and keep his head): this would have
come to pass—but for Vesuvius, a jealous
nature pouring its hot wrath on all her drafts,
while filling up the beds, the future,
with its furious, furnace breath—ah, such
a memorable excuse, catastrophic death—
but hey,
the tour is tiresome, the day is cold; in town
there are a dozen shops displaying skeletons
of bats, the Tears of Christ, and Davids, Davids
by the gross, effigies for sale at any price.
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