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Those Graves In Rome Analysis

Author: Poetry of Larry Levis Type: Poetry Views: 177

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The Selected Levis, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000There are places where the eye can starve,

But not here. Here, for example, is

The Piazza Navona, & here is his narrow room

Overlooking the Steps & the crowds of sunbathing

Tourists. And here is the Protestant Cemetery

Where Keats & Joseph Severn join hands

Forever under a little shawl of grass

And where Keats's name isn't even on

His gravestone, because it is on Severn's,

And Joseph Severn's infant son is buried

Two modest, grassy steps behind them both.

But you'd have to know the story--how bedridden

Keats wanted the inscription to be

Simple, & unbearable: "Here lies one

Whose name is writ in water." On a warm day,

I stood here with my two oldest friends.

I thought, then, that the three of us would be

Indissoluble at the end, & also that

We would all die, of course. And not die.

And maybe we should have joined hands at that

Moment. We didn't. All we did was follow

A lame man in a rumpled suit who climbed

A slight incline of graves blurring into

The passing marble of other graves to visit

The vacant home of whatever is not left

Of Shelley & Trelawney. That walk uphill must

Be hard if you can't walk. At the top, the man

Wheezed for breath; sweat beaded his face,

And his wife wore a look of concern so

Habitual it seemed more like the way

Our bodies, someday, will have to wear stone.

Later that night, the three of us strolled,

Our arms around each other, through the Via

Del Corso & toward the Piazza di Espagna

As each street grew quieter until

Finally we heard nothing at the end

Except the occasional scrape of our own steps,

And so said good-bye. Among such friends,

Who never allowed anything, still alive,

To die, I'd almost forgotten that what

Most people leave behind them disappears.

Three days later, staying alone in a cheap

Hotel in Naples, I noticed a child's smeared

Fingerprint on a bannister. It

Had been indifferently preserved beneath

A patina of varnish applied, I guessed, after

The last war. It seemed I could almost hear

His shout, years later, on that street. But this

Is speculation, & no doubt the simplest fact

Could shame me. Perhaps the child was from

Calabria, & went back to it with

A mother who failed to find work, & perhaps

The child died there, twenty years ago,

Of malaria. It was so common then--

The children crying to the doctors for quinine.

And to the tourists, who looked like doctors, for quinine.

It was so common you did not expect an aria,

And not much on a gravestone, either--although

His name is on it, & weathered stone still wears

His name--not the way a girl might wear

The too large, faded blue workshirt of

A lover as she walks thoughtfully through

The Via Fratelli to buy bread, shrimp,

And wine for the evening meal with candles &

The laughter of her friends, & later the sweet

Enkindling of desire; but something else, something

Cut simply in stone by hand & meant to last

Because of the way a name, any name,

Is empty. And not empty. And almost enough.


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