Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2016  Vol. 15 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Sinatra: The Concert at Pompeii, 1991

Six hours until showtime & they’ve organized
A private excursion for the Chairman & Frank Jr., who tonight
Will conduct the orchestra—the Teatro Grande,

Where lately the amphitheater floor has been minutely sifted
To locate the DNA of gladiators—blood of Gauls,
Sasanians, Nubians. It’s the Diamond Jubilee Tour,

Day 67. “Come Fly With Me” will begin the set.
Frank is weary, puffy face, bags beneath the eyes—
Still legendarily blue. Shades on, a fuchsia sport shirt.

& a phalanx of golf carts flanked by carbinieri Vespas,
Chauffeur him about the Forum & Via di Nola.
At the House of the Tragic Poet, Frank Jr. reaches out

To steady the Voice, who grumbles about the shoes
Crafted for him in Milan last week—still too tight. & in the Temple
Of Isis, he pauses on a bench for a little rest, an Orangina

Handed him by a red-haired forensic anthropologist
In a denim skirt, unused to being addressed as Sugar.
“World on a String” is on every set list of the Tour.

“My Way” the encore, always. The more generous reviewers
Have remarked that the storied voice
Is not precisely what it used to be. The tour guides save

The Garden of the Fugitives for last. Its pumice-mantled
Audience of the dead. They explain the Fiorelli Method
Locate the petrified outline of what once

Was a body. Pour liquid plaster through a funnel
In a hole you’ve made—in what you think was the ear
Or side. This fills the cavities created

By decomposing flesh. & thus you have a perfect
Simulacrum of a victim at the instant of death,
As the gasses finally do their work,

& the ash continues its despoiling rain. The details
Are exquisite: sandal, birthmark, the fold of a toga.
Label it artistry. Or recipe. Label it trophy. Call it Bread & Circus

For the gawking tourist rabble. Call it the end of a brief episode,
As in “One for My Baby,” where the Latinate dactyl—
Ep-is-ode—gets teased out for what seems like minutes

Thanks to Blue Eyes’ bravura phrasing. Brief
From the Latin as well, as in vita brevis, a term which
Even Frank Jr. & the hulking bodyguard who lurks

Beside this little entourage must know. The tremble
In Frank’s hand’s returned. & how his back is killing him.
The set list tonight: “Day and Night,” “What Now My Love?”

& “Mack The Knife,” its tempo slowed to crawl.
Ohhhh thee shark haasss pearl-yyy teeettthhh deeaaar  . . .
But here, offstage, beyond the reach of nimble mastery,

The thirteen supine figures reach the shores of Styx
Together in perpetuity. By the wall of a kitchen garden,
Three family groups, fleeing the lava rain, joined by accident,

That disaster film cliché: two farm families & a merchant’s.
A servant, bag stuffed with grain & seven pomegranates—
He’s the first to fall. Then the two small boys,

Face down, holding hands. A husband, arms outstretched
To shield his wife, who even as stone appears
To tremble. Frank circles the scene, then circles again.

Two more boys, a mother, a younger sister, bodies
Contorted in tortured sleep. He bends to run his hand
Along the mother’s back. & now to the Merchant—

The celebrated Merchant, his face adorning all the guidebooks,
The one sitting upright, right arm fused to a mound of earth.
He is trying to rise. For millennia he is trying to rise.

Though his bad knee throbs, Frank squats down to meet
Him face to face. The ancient pearls that were the eyes gaze out
& the Chairman’s baby blues dart wildly back.  

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