Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2023  Vol. 21  No.3
an online journal of literature and the arts
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The End of the Life of Giorgione da Castelfranco, Venetian Painter

He doesn’t mind the fleas, calls them
our pets, their marks merchant kisses.

In my letters, I tell him to keep away.

In the Rialto it is forbidden
to sell rotten fruit. A strange orange
pulses beneath my arm.
In my neck, a warm egg. Fever.
The mattress leaking straw.

Some nights he sits on the iron stool
across the room, staring.
When I ask what he’s up to, he answers,
Composing. As if I’m supposed to understand.

Perhaps I do. As a girl, I watched for years
the ships float toward their long detention
on the Lazaretto, imagined galleys full
of peacock feathers, pearls. Fine pepper
and myrrh. When one departed
it was as though the entire sea
was cockeyed, and it was
almost painful, that hollowed space.
I would close my eyes
to fill it, like matching color
to the scent of persimmon tree
floating across the lagoon.

Dolorous eyes, he says I have those.

He says many things
in this close capsule, sometimes comes
just to talk. We each have our own art—
I bring flesh to life; you bring life
to flesh.
Venice needs both. He believes
this. I trace his sloping nose, my sincere one.

Some evenings it’s as though a gate swings open
and I can nearly step from the pain. He’ll play his lute,
describe the Queen of Cyprus stout and hopeless
on her horse.

But the Republic suffers.
Only ghosts walk the sea-fields.

These rooms have heard every secret.
What men won’t tell their wives. One wakes
from nightmares—he’s drowning in a well of silk.
One has begun to make a fortune
selling shovels. His visits more
and more frequent.

We hear each rumor, too.
How we got so sick. Some say
a cloud of death rode the sirocco
from Cathay. (The red wind
will return soon, with its rising tides.
I must tell the other girls to raise their beds.)
Great earthquakes, others believe, let loose
some sort of fermented air. That God tires
of us, has sent his own
searing arrows.

How many sailors have followed a false star
to their end?

I am no bright compass.
I will lead him to the grave.

I know my own is across the water.
It is deep. (I’ve heard how they stack us.)
So I’ll never be lonely, I tell him. Laugh.
He says he will carry me as Aeneas did Anchises
out of burning Troy. These names only names

and already I feel flames rising
around this bed. The fire falls in flakes
like snow. Thirst. Fleas. The page is a sea of ink.
Stench so thick it shimmers.

I am too tender for what he wants,
for what he pays. Where I’m going
his money is no good.  

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