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
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's Other Poems
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