On the map it is precise and rectilinear as a chessboard, though driving past you would hardly notice it, this boundary line or ragged margin, a shallow swale that cups a simple trickle of water, less rill than rivulet, more gully than dell, a tangled ditch grown up throughout with a fearsome assortment of
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Joseph Brodsky in Venice (1981)
La Serenissima, in morning light, is beautiful. But you already knew that. Palette of honeyed ochre and ship’s bell bronze, water precisely the color of the hand-ground pigment with which the water of Venice has been painted for centuries, angled slats of aquamarine chopped by wakes to agate, matte black backlit with raw opal and anodized aluminum, rope-work of wisteria, wands of oleander emerging from hidden gardens. At noon, near the boat-yard of the last gondola maker, a violin echoes from deep inside an empty cistern. Lo and behold. Ecco. A swirl of wind-blown ashes from yet another cigarette and for a moment you see December snow in Saint Petersburg, the Lion’s Bridge, crystalline halo crowning Akhmatova’s defiant silhouette. Sunset: bitter orange and almond milk, sepia retinting the canals with cartographer’s ink as you study the small gray lagoon crabs patrolling a kingdom of marble slabs descending into the depths; rising almost imperceptibly, the tide licks at, kisses, then barely spills across the top step’s foot-worn, weed-velveted lip in slippery caravans, dust-laden rivulets. So another day’s cargo of terrestrial grit enriches their scuttled realm, and they make haste, like drunken pirates in a silent film, erratically but steadfastly, to claim it.
Campbell McGrath is the author of ten collections of poetry, including XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century, In The Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys, Shannon, and Seven Notebooks. His third book, Spring Comes to Chicago, won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.