Part Three

 

How much that offer startled me! I stood
in awe of her, and gazing as on summer
clouds that float far over to the faint horizons.
I thought of her strong body and its soaking
breath as mine to turn in drenching passion,
to ride in tumult till its tempests broke
in sun-shot happiness, the brilliant swell
of water splashing on Rialto steps.

No words were needed. Fervently I took
the hand, and in the afterwards was thrown
to shipwreck tangle of loose spars. I strove
to delve as one who's lost his senses, felt
more depths of wanting that a man can hold,
who treads the water as entailing currents
thick-haul him down and under, afterwards
to thrust him upward in a rush of bubbles.
Her need was mine and with an openness
I could not think were possible in one
so calculating in her step and dress.

I kept the contract close to mind in days
or weeks, so many, that I did not see her,
and in that evanescent happiness
applied myself once more to ink and paint.

Veronese I must tell you was a name
that brought to mind the sumptuous animation
of annual festivals, of being dressed
as daylight in the early morning breaks
as pale electrum on the Adriatic
— a film more liquid than the eye than grasp
to coasts that bring in pinewood and the grapes,
the dark-spiced cedars down from Lebanon,
Smyrna with its honeyed bales of dates
and figs, the rich sequestering of the light
that threads its circlets on the smaller islands,
surrounds the Ionian hills with olive groves
sequesters Cyprus where the sea-borne Venus
arose in mystery and copper ore.

Such is Venice with its trading posts
across the frozen Caucasus, where camel
bells must tinkle in the dome of silence,
through summers blazing on beneath the vast
high towers of sunlight and the sodden plains —
all these I set down in my brush and wove
a thread of luxury through the damask cloths.

Those things I painted — in the liquid strokes
that lingered in an eyelid or a streak
of greenish ochre in the golden hair
there wound in braids and touched with pearls, in bloom
of healthy skin that brought in breast and ear —
50. were what I'd sensed or run my fingers through
on long-remembered afternoons, the sun-
light soaking into faded tapestries
or warming shuttering that closed the walls
and rose as battlement around that body,
which was not fully mine, as Venice knew
and smiled indulgently, as did her suitors
attending business or the Council meetings.

For me, there was much deprecating
of myself and station: necessary
in one depending on his trade and name:
an artisan, not one to talk on church
or trade or empire, but who knew that pride
leads to entailment and enfeebled sight,
to empty carcasses of adulation
beside that one and everlasting bliss
reserved for saints and martyrs. And yet I am,
as I say, acquainted with such voyaging,
with need for drink and colour, celebrations
of festivals which in my earnest brush
I trace, enlarged, for delectation.

I am
no more than that, a looker-on, a painter
who sees his miracles in daily things:
The breath of sunlight as the morning haze
burns out in midday ripples on the water,
the thin-run molten lead that far down washes
the broken surface as the wave slopes through,
the laze of pennants, wavering light on stilts,
the boats that bob and ply upon the far lagoon
until they merge with nothing and the sky.

Mine was what I saw each day about
me in the tranquil finger of a God
who guided me throughout in word and act,
and made continually the ducats ring:

Your studio would do this? So much obliged.
Your last astonished us and therefore we
will meet your fees, in total, as agreed.
I was no madman with unlicensed dreams
who stood to cauterize the public gaze
but one who followed precedence and, being
but a mason's son, made good his skill
by practiced industry, a name in short
that stretched beyond the calculations
of dull Verona or the hillside towns.

That boon was mine to celebrate,
that if there came at times more troubling thoughts,
as daylight surging through an inner room
bears through the sanctity an undressed sight,
what could I do who scraped the acres back
of sumptuous gossamers in damask, satin
100. braids, to see beneath the brimming cloth
our make-believe of inner natures, who
we are at sundown when we kneel at prayers.

I was no errant thinker, but one who sought
in meek, perpetual majesty of praise
for riches given us, to bend my face
away from roaring merriment in rooms,
from flagrant gesturings on balconies,
and, worse, the genders of a doubtful sex,
those drabs who not so much exposed themselves
but did all manner of disgusting acts,
the which I knew too well, and had as clients.
Not contemptuous of them, but I blessed
the scriptures that in safety, day by day,
to Canaan's land had brought me, sinning ever
in my thoughts and willing, as all do, echoing
perpetually that first angel's fall
who brought perdition on us and this strife.

I lived, when young, with miracles, and lodged
their schooling in my mind. When daylight bloomed,
however late, dilatory, monastic even
on my rough father's walls, I'd rise and sketch
the shape of gesture on the smoother stone:
the figures sumptuous as they stood, life-proud,
imperiously contained within their forms.

Older now, I am appalled, renounce
them utterly as puffed-up trumpery.
I would repaint those walls of summer villas,
rework my awkward-fashioned altarpieces,
but yet I marvel as I marvelled then.

God's hand was in my painting, and I found
through puppetry and seeming make-believe
afresh new images that made them true,
and that hard conscience of my father gave
me grace to witness sorrow in his place.

To bless one lost in rages, more in drink,
a man turned on himself who, though he saw
the springtime fragrant in the earth, could feel
the angels passing in the wind, could hear
the chattering of leaves, the voice of rivers,
would only with his clumsy hands recarve
this one and much repeated line in prophets,
one opening from another, each one worse,
that kept him toiling at the wayside shrines.

Why God should let him labour on in vain,
would taunt with makeshift things, and throw them back
with limitless self-loathing I do not know,
but He no doubt had reasons and has made
the same rich dowry out of women's looks,
the most in my Antonia, whose grace
150. gave answer to a patron's vaguest thoughts
in well-drawn character and firmer shape,
as all the while, most modestly, I'd set
how this could be, or that, and from my brush
would come new instances, fresh prodigies
where they could view a world transported, sent
from that most distant past, and what they saw
stretched out from doorway or Rialto step
returned contemporary with that blessed land.
Here what they hoped for had been lived before,
as through our quaysides went our Saviour's steps
that He, in high-wrought meekness and remit
of pain, could leave His imprint on the world.

 

Now rewritten and published as a free ebook by Ocaso Press