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This piece is about 17 printed pages long. It is copyright © Michele Leggott and Jacket magazine 2008.See our [»»] Copyright notice. The Internet address of this page is

Michele Leggott

Four poems:



the red line takes us to Spagna
packed tight among the commuters
escalators move up to the sky
oh look date palms up there
and the Steps are being washed
without their bougainvillea
in the cool before ambulances
solemnly we climb    arm in arm
as the sun begins its strike
pitted wet marble takes the stamp
of feet not long since
writing their antipodean names
in water    a house of poets
stands on the corner below
in it the room of posthumous existence
furnished with simulacra
where Severn organises turf and daisies
for his friend and Hazlitt finds him
covered in violets the following spring
with a shepherd asleep nearby
imagine that    in the alley a kid
in romantic rig is tuning his violin
as the crowds start to arrive
soon he’s belting out
My Heart Will Go On with full
orchestral backing from a box
and the blessing of those
who wish they were alive to hear it

at the end of the line is Tiburtina
and a train that takes us into the hills
by sibylline indirections    we’re looking
for a villa with five hundred fountains
shown on our map as hieroglyphs
the locals are friendly and try to help
this way they say in their terza rima
turning the map upside down
we’re on our own    following
a trail of souvenir stalls    and here
it is from a dark stairway    the vista
over the valley    fantasia of walks
and fountains    archways vaults
and windows flung open
inviting the blue air    into that picture
we go on scorching feet    intruders
in a pleasure garden that’s
wholly about hydraulics
and representations of cardinal rule
we splash along the troughs rejoicing
in the noise of eagles and lions spouting
from a wall of greenery that covers up
an allegorical scheme    water falls
into scalloping basins    nymphs burst
from a grotto at Fontana del’Ovato
where the horse of poetry kicks open
another gushing spring    virtuoso
and a water organ wheezes in the shade
we visit Neptune’s jets and jeux d’eaux
that pour from monsters and heraldic fish
at the Fountain of the Dragons    water beasts
spray us with demon laughter    glossolalia
of the high seicento and a gleeful plunge
into the icy pool    we rub ourselves down
beside the Rometta    two wolf boys SPQR
and a very leaky boat    then go to hear
bronze birds singing in a thicket
until the hunting owl appears    a delicate
mechanism that scares them into silence
a river was diverted to supply
these games and transports    and on the edge
of a grand escarpment we find three pools
mirroring sky and parasol pines
so perfectly that fish are swimming in air
and miniature lemons in terracotta tubs
make a perimeter of darkwater lamps
is this what we came to see    the turning over
of hemispheres    so that we step
effortlessly between worlds    can be
more than one place and breathing
as the vehicles of ascension
work their charm and the astronomer
who might have been taken for a shepherd
shakes himself awake at sundown
so many things to say
riding up and down    up and down
these ports of the archipelago

the lines crisscross at Termini
in a neighbourhood of cafes bars
and our gymnasium of the free collazione
with a Michelangelo touch at reception
we’ve found a market selling fish and fruit
each morning in the street    also
gauzy skirts and a thousand summer sandals
solo on their boxes    but what
are these posters on the wall nearby
showing girls with smiling faces?
SCOMPARSE    is the legend below
SCOMPARSE    are they missing persons
or stars in a current extravaganza?
we note down details and continue on
to the station    we’re going to Terontola


who is the other one you ask
as our plural extends its worldly compass
into the Umbrian hills    all sorts
of possibilities suggest themselves
I propose the gift of another day
and we go walking out together
adding twos and fours and whole companies
to this pellegrinaggio    little green bottles
of mineral water tucked into our conference
packs    pilgrim names are chiselled in stone
outside Maria of the Angels who encloses
matchbox in her bare baroque
the porch church where Il Poverello
began it all and off to one side the cell
he transited from 3 October 1226    a Saturday
his heart and guts remaining there
below a banner of doves    his bramble bush
a miracle of thornless roses    iconography
we can understand this Saturday in June
driving up the hill to a pink and white town
stacked up in a fresco that shook so hard
the life of the saint fell off the walls
and was put back by computers
matching flakes and chips in a canticle
that has us pedalling around the basilica
with open mouths    look he’s walking past
Maria Sopra Minerva where we ambled
not five minutes ago    and over here
he’s holding up a badly leaning church
so it won’t fall down    light punches
through stone walls but the paintings
are dark    I look for a window and ask you
to bend illumination this way and that
so we’ll have a light year or two to spend
filling our eyes with disappearances

afa rises in the valley each morning
thickening as the day gets hotter    a snakeskin
rolled into a jar    so light the wind might
take it beyond the reach of living eyes
over the plain we go    four in a small car
leaving the wall lizards to their devices
the hummingbird bee to its geranium
and the hoopoe flying around in a fizz
here is a palace of priors    duecento trecento
quattrocento    with stairs for horses
to get the big men to the top floor
converted now to house a million madonnas
and gory crucifixions    from room to room
we go    dark Siena gold and purple sockettes
on the feet of the Child who listens
to a shepherd playing bagpipes
ox and ass singing along bel canto
who did this thing?   the one who did it
the one from that place    he master
from there    does he have a name?
he has the name of the place
who did it?   that one did it    the one
from Perugia    whose plein air
pleinissima is a light in darkened rooms
whose cattle occupy portable enclosures
the Family would recognise
out there beyond the shaded triple windows
framing una vista di vasta portata
far-reaching    carrying all the way
to the hill farms and back    as the thunderstorm
at midnight cracks open Agonies and Assumptions
Plagues Limbos Judgements    Scourgings
Harrowings Martyrdoms and Massacres
bleats howls yelps honks groans
beating wings screams and buckets
of blood dripping sobbing seeping
and the Infants bellowing  
for mama mama mama    cacophony
of the Appassionata above the dungeons
of the Underground City made over
as carparks and spaces for an exhibition
of lace    on Corso Vannucci we stroll
diverted by an accordionist
who’s making the wooden legs
of her puppets dance to a Sunday tune
they jig and speak to each other
bouncing sheep and shepherd boy
their voices are reedy    they play
a little drama at the feet of God  
whose draperies fall at last in woollens
native to this region and its partisans    

Beato Angelico    Beato Piero
long since disappeared but breathing
still in the Val di Niccone
white truffles not black    no bears no wolves
wild boars likely to end up in salami
brown crows    chestnut honey    a place
where two angels with pink and green wings
and matching socks on their gravid feet
draw back a curtain and the usual News
spinnakers into the world    no more
getting a key from the neighbour
to unlock the church for a look
they’ve made a gallery in the schoolhouse
for their Parturition    so many visitors
a new school can be built    everyone smiles
but over here is the lost work    we may
imagine it    four travellers in contemporary dress
stand in the square and eat an icecream
before dinner    lemon mint peach melon
behind them stretches an arcade
in deep perspective and a wall
with municipal notices advising the names
of those gone    vanished    beyond
the reach of living eyes    at centre left
is the scene that gives the work its title
men in uniform shooting local families
in the hills above the valley    their houses stand
abandoned    receiving each year
on a Sunday in June rose wreaths in memory
of those who came and went
as we do in our confraternity each day
upon the sweet earth    walk now
in the cool of the evening looking up
and listening to the birds of the air
we could be anywhere but specifically
we’re in this Geometry together


she was lime blossom    an apparition
walking by the river with her friends
the bridge was under reconstruction
but I got there    corner of Tornabuoni
and the Lungarno    traffic halted    swallows
swept by in bands of seraphic noise
later in a dream she ate my fearful heart

six centuries and the poet’s words
fly around us walking to the famous bridge
from our transit camp on Tornabuoni street
where Cartier and Ferragamo sell trinkets
and shoes to make beatific any girl
with euros in her pocket    we’re curious
about the Four Seasons on the bridge
made for a Medici wedding some time ago
and standing two at this end    two at that
in a rondo that suggests men play tough
and women are summer and spring
not daring to breathe we look up
at her with the garland and a short skirt
on the poet’s corner    yes it’s Primavera
we can see the faint line where her head
was reattached in 1961    we know
that’s citrus blossom in her hair
ruffled by a wind coming off the river
as the bells begin another sposalizio

she brought back unmarked planets
green and gold ciphers I saw as a child
on the wall of the Eighth Day    that time
beyond our own where she’s rounding up
the roses    a dream girl who crossed
the equator on blue stilts and still
tastes like spring medicine to me   

behind the wall of an Oltrarno garden
we find magnolias with slender leaves
and jasmine climbing over porticos
above the eschatological roar
of vespas in formation turning into
Via Maggio and making for the ramp
of Signor Ammannati’s bridge    1569
which is Signor Gizdulich’s bridge    1958
its three mysterious ellipses rebuilt
from original drawings and blocks
fished out of the river or cut again
from the quarry reopened in the gardens
it’s a perfect simulacrum
down to the mistakes preserved
by an architect in love with history
and the thumping heart
this morning that’s our track
across the river with the scooters
and the kids hanging out on the bridge
with their cameras and phones    hey    
someone’s texted the girl    ciao bella
just now coming into view along
the riverwalk    she’s the one
whose gold sandals flashed past us
in the dark rooms of the Uffizi
five minutes ago    we were joking
about Lippi babes and bottled cherries    
she was heading for the stairs
she was out of there with her friends
and something about a poet
green shadows and signs    of things
to come    she was gone    
into the crowds of the city we are

I was smoke and rain among the olives
tendrils of the grape were my wild hair
I was sweet water    shadow in the burning place
no wall was high enough to shut me out
now the valleys echo with my crying
he whom I loved is dead    when I find him
we will take shelter in the earth together

around this town of hours we go
visiting the Marias    del Fiore del Carmine
Novella where the soap shop
is floral pastures in a green chiostro
then Spirito Salvatore and Trinita
chasing the architects and the profusion
of their chapels    Florence Nightingale
has a monument in Santa Croce
off in corner of the primo cloister
chichichichichi    chi chi chi chi    chichichichichi
chi chi chi chi    a quarto arc of water
sprays roses    following the curve
of the poet’s voice a cappella
as she draws together
wreckage crocifisso the hammering in
and blowing up the murder stonk
the dissection of thin aortas
and one stray bullet in the campagna
sixty years ago that widowed the bride
on the other side of the world
gentile visitatore    at our school
each hour lasts sixty minutes    such intensity
the pietra serena projects we need
a night off in a campo with other travellers
drinking wine and bubbly water
listening to jazz and an accordion patrol
going up against the treefrogs
rose sellers gather    tomorrow we’ll climb
the steps to Piazzale Michelangelo   

I was misto and lilystitch in the great
laceration of his heart    he made me
in the image of an angel    look up and see
my face against the ice-bright peaks    then
bring me back to earth with rehearsals
of the life we lived each twenty four hours
when I opened new files on the desktop

from San Miniato al Monte
Pantocrator smiles at the painter sculptor
architect engineer wrapping mattresses
around the belltower he’s converted
into an artillery position    out there in the hills
it’s happening again    the battalions
pushing forward under clouds of white dust
yesterday they left another cross
on the outskirts of a town    it might have been
Strada    these details are difficult
to establish    only that she had a photo
with sunlight through a wooden gate
and dappled shade nearby    another eight days
and the ghost of the engineer can watch
as forces in retreat blow the bridges
and his beautiful curves go into the river
along with you know who    now we learn
Miniato had his head chopped off
put it back on his shoulders and climbed
up the ridge to expire    is there a date?
25 October 250 AD    the Olivetans
take care of business now    they’ve been here
with Cluniacs and Benedictines on and off
since 1018    tending the mortal remains
of saints and merchants who wait
for Resurrection Day on the roofs
of their mailboxes and mausoleums
our wandering feet make an ambo
through this city of the dead
its magnolias its star jasmine its electric
weedkiller    Maria Solatrix is ascendant
over the doorway of someone’s walk-in
tomb    and under the trees
standing on a kind of wedding cake
two figures modelled from an album
marble shoes and officer’s uniform
bringing her flowers    marble gown
in one hand    fingers almost touching    
bride and groom gathered in    
or about to lead off the dancing    it’s your night   
it’s your day    we wept for you
dead 1944 and 45    and think we understand
tears made over into stone    the poem
is two names    it regards the empty sky
as we descend the zigzag and go back
to Il Rifrullo for coffee and a sandwich
spoons clatter    Luciano stands at  the bar
singing It’s A Man’s World    behind us
sitting near one of the open doors
a trio that might be a family is starting
the weekend slowly    fatigued parents
a baby with drop-dead gorgeous curls
squirming on her knee and grabbing
expertly for the paper    swallows dive


by Eurostar we come to S Lucia
lady of rich allure on wooden stilts
that keep her toes just clear of high water
is that her copper dome across the canal
from where we stand in line    waiting
for the pass that will let us ride gratuito
on public transport    five days and each step
a question for the catenary we are
making when we journey to the islands
between sea and sky    strangely
at home in the lagoon we’ve seen
upside down on the other side of the globe
even that bouncing cavallo del mare
the gondolas cost too much that year
shadows other paddle boats    and this island
chugging through its steamy afternoon
is a fish much walked upon    with high ground
a hard backbone    tail and fins    yes
even an anchor rope but    Serenissima
everyone in the world has been here
and laughing daughter Lucy    Lucina
of the clear skies who takes us now
to La Calcina    chalky abode of poets
aesthetes and wandering bohemians
in the city of falling angels    B A N G
Rilke wrote a letter next door in 1912
B A N G    John Ruskin stayed here
some weeks in 1877    B A N G    a precursor
of Metastasio reported shenanigans
in the pensione and its waterfront café
B A N G    big drops but we take no notice
on our promenade along the lungomare
B A N G   B A N G    thunder catches up
with lightning and we run for a doorway
too late    we’re soaked we’re lost    dark amaze
and shoes full of water trailing back
behind around over under and through
the poets’ grid    Lucy smiling again
and folding up her baldachin umbrella

are we waking up in the room
where Buisine wrote Les Ciels de Tiepolo
and did he wonder as we do about
cheese and ham and the hardboiled egg
offered by the breakfast menu?
no matter    this is clearly Heaven    a terrace
floating under white umbrellas and IKARUS
arriving from Igoumenitsa    passengers
lining the rails and heating their coffee
over primuses    we’ll meet them later
on foot at the sculpture garden admiring
the video of a waterfall and puzzling
over blue neon on a leafy wall
Se la forma scompare la sua radice
è eterna    If the form vanishes
its radical persists    aching blue beyond
the window grilles of Palazzo Venier
dei Leoni    a sky the colour of lions
and under the trees on a marble bench
passage to Gallery Contrejour    someone
handing out acqua minerale if you’re hot
yes of course to bring in    the footing
simple    games of light and dark
but always on the level    and wall maps
to show what’s on today    moment by moment
something asks for our attention    absorbent
space and all around    voices textures people
and sounds naming shapes in the air
a dog barks happily    why didn’t we think
to make an art of spaces and trace
ourselves within and walking through it
l a  f o r m a    l a  r a d i c e    
a dog barks happily from behind a wall
everybody laughs    then shrieks and yells
as young people do honeypots off the roof    
into the Grand Canal    Arte Povera
meets Arte Impossibile dripping up the steps
ready to do it again    all day we install
sights and sounds    the urgent voice
in the prison yard    the dark piano
across the rio    students drinking
with flowers in their hair    raising money
by singing and kissing the clientele
such fêtes galantes    and way up high
in a silver sliver Lucina moving west

this morning’s ferry is from Chania
a monster moving slowly up the channel
KRITI is her name    and Neptun
the backward braking tug    we make
a circumnavigation by vaporetto
to check out Lido and the limpid ocean
then pause outside the Arsenal    isn’t that
Dante Alighieri in marble on the wall
where he saw the fires of Hell turning out
warships day and night in a burning circle
and was inspired    as is Sandro Angelface
approaching now across the lagoon
in a row boat with standing oars    zephyrs blow
but he’s come to see about
some local colour for his drawings
in the first printed edition of the Inferno
Il Maestro di Fuoco descends from his niche
takes a seat in Sandro’s barque
and off they go into the psychic heart
mirabilmente oscura    of Malebolge
we abandoned hope ourselves that day
laid out by maelstroms and infections
we did not understand    waking hours later
to the sound of bells    60 o’clock    gas flares
smoking in the western sky    Lucina weirdly
D not C    look north in the south    south
in the north    she’s a mirror line    persistent
perhaps looking out for the bag we left
under a table at Bar Duchamp    it was there
when we returned    hosanna hosanna
let’s buy a rose and take it to the sea

four sisters float past in white habits
maybe they’re bellringers
down the way at S Maria del Rosario
trying not to laugh too hard
at our round trip to the Giudecca
on the day of the transport strike
it’s an ecumenical neighbourhood
white oleanders everywhere    walls
not too high and in the third week of July
pilgrims walk across a pontoon bridge
to pray at the Redentore church
what happens to the ferries from Greece
on those high and holy mornings?
the old stories surface as redemption songs
with sparkly edges and a fireworks display
meanwhile the 51 takes us to a Museo
Storico Navale and there among galeottas
triremes and a sidereal clock
are carved maps of Corfu and the Isle of Candy
set in high relief on the wall    our fingers
find the citadel the ordnance the harbour
defences and every wine shop accurate
to 1571 when the admirals called up
their data projections and moved little boats
in and out of range    graves at Suda Bay
men falling out of the sky    the hospital ship
sunk in Tripoli harbour 1941
see, five lachrymose preachers approach
to advocate his soul    but we are gone
to the island of the rotating dead
Il Cimitero    where evangels are permitted
to stay indefinitely though ordinary folk
are moved on by decade    and here’s the poem
of two names    OLGA RUDGE and EZRA POUND
beneath two bay trees and a fan palm
no more no less    and birds crying
beyond the walls    let’s go on to Murano
and drink iced tea in the shade    not forgetting
those two bronze figures in the boat
off the cemetery island    standing up
pointing east    to where the sun will rise
after dark voyages around the heart
and its overlay of patterned wings on water

the Minister for Simplification
has outlawed drinking eating barbequeing
and brief swimwear in public places    also
sleeping writing on walls and interfering
with the tongues of bells    apart from this
the day is delightful and we’re passing
islets with ruins and fishermen up to their knees
on shoals beside the channel markers
showing the way to Torcello    did you want
tall grass white bridges and treefrogs chorusing
sweetly around the basilica where we stand
astounded by the glitter of a west wall
full of Judgement and Assumptive grace
under halogens that make every day
into a vernal equinox    the blind have diagrams
with metal dots so hot they sear the tips
of searching fingers    and I have you beato    
talking the gold to me    when we find her
in two mosaics five hundred years apart
hast’ou seen boat’s wake on sea-wall? how
crests it?   there’s no mistaking where
Il Botticello was coming from that day
we watched him skiff towards us    small waves
fall over themselves    can you hear them
from the top of the belltower we’ve climbed
to see the city do its living map as the sun gets low
between us    boats wind in and out
of their canals   ants crowd the pavements
and la laguna sheers off in all directions
as the bells begin their clang    an old saint
with a crocodile looks at a winged lion
and winks    not long now    and at Florian’s
under the canopies we’ve seen in paintings
a clarinet is talking to a violin
the man in orange trousers heads off home
with a shopping bag of sketches
for horses he’s made already and those
that are yet to come    he bows to the moon
and to Piscator who’s walking down the quay
wheeling a lamp and a net on a pole
each evening he plugs in the light and swings  
it over the water bringing fish
and other spectators to the surface
l a  f o r m a    l a  r a d i c e
who is who and does it really matter
if she throws her wedding ring to him
and what was marvellously dark
is moonlight on his workshop floor tonight
salute we say and lift glasses of bubbling
summer wine    a guitar plinks
a black felucca makes for Redentore
at dawn the water taxi    taking us into the sky

Michele Leggott

Michele Leggott. Photo: Tim Page.

Michele Leggott’s most recent book is Journey to Portugal (Holloway Press, 2007). She coordinates the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) with Brian Flaherty and is the inaugural New Zealand Poet Laureate.

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