Joseph O’Brien

For Father Eric Berns
L’acqua fracica i ponti.

From the algaed stone of Bernini’s first fountain
In the town’s main square, Roman aquifer-fed waters
Continue to soften the age of the carved frontis.
Drippling like saliva from a sputtering-drunk
Cicerone, the stream of its gurgling consciousness
Streaks like white wine across the slime-glazed gaze
Of the sculpted figures. The fretted stonework
Shin-splints at the base, fading like the gold foil-
Wrapped smog, the aural haze which impresses Rome’s
Distant form. Olive hillsides branch into the town
With spring’s tenderly spiked crown of rain-spurred growth
While the hill’s bald top has been tonsured by the force
Of fortress ruins, leaving only a primitive baldacchino
Of vine thickets to cast monastic shadows at midday.
Here, in Frascati, first-century soldiers’ barracks mingle
With medieval towers and Howitzer-ramparts Nazis
Used to disabuse Rome of its own local ghosts of empire–
The ones that old Roberto knows, our personal guide,
Your personal Vespa-fixer and everyone’s favorite
Divining-rod for the region’s purest, strongest spumante.

Sad as Horace, eminent as Virgil, feisty as Dante,
He wore each cantina’s rich light, half like a laurel,
Half like a halo, around his half-greying head.
I understood no Italian, but drank in the glib poetry
Of his laughter, the glittering stanzas of his eyes,
The gilt, lilt and rhyme of his roaming, rich-lustered cadence.
That same gold sang its shimmering on dramatic plains
As last rays of Italian sun struck the hunkered domes
Of motherly basilicas rising hen-like to gather their part
Of Rome beneath their skirts (your image, not mine).
These, we watched from afar, our last, most and best
Of the fading day. Amid rising bubbles in our glasses
And smoke’s fall from our American Lucky Strikes,
We floated here into evening’s place on plastic chairs
As the proprietario hosed down the day’s macadam
At the last cantina, steam rising from the cracks
Like fissures of night. Roberto would then guide us back
Through his ancient streets and Bernini would fare us
Well to the train. Jugs of Frascati for luggage,
Heads humming with contrabanded sunlight,
Promising return to our smiling host, we boarded,
Only the latest to depart after draining the town of its art.

Joseph O’Brien is a freelance writer who lives with his wife Cecilia on a rural homestead near Soldiers Grove, WI. They have seven children–Barbara, Seamus, Bernadette, Norah, Liam, Anastasia and Mara Naomi–who wanted to see their names in print.