For eighteens years
she has wanted to come
waited almost two decades to sit
with the sun making a copper moon
of her hair, and the Duomo a Gothic pair
of winged angels behind her.
On a sketch pad in her lap blooms an ink stain,
a transfiguration of gleaming rose glass and gold-spun mosaics
and the thick chalk of some primal riposte
to Signorelli’s exquisite terror.
I find her on an ancient bench
in this ancient city after I have left my group
to scale the hillside fortress on the funicular.
As I wait for my companions, she shares her perch
with a smile, a softness carried from the light
slicing through the cathedral’s alabaster windows.
For three days, she has been spoiled by rapture in these
Umbrian arms, unfolding the secrets
of its underground labyrinth, boring bone-deep
through the tuff to the caves of her longing.
She has stared down the spiral of St. Patrick’s well,
and felt herself go weightless, sloughing off layers
to the breeze sweeping the silver-gray
of olive grows, the pinnacles of cypress.
In her purse is a postcard of the setting sun
splaying its amber waves on the old stone walls
rising above the valley, a fragment
of her mother’s past before Nebraska,
before the farm, pinned, a hungry whisper
on the refrigerator door, for years after she’d gone.
“I could never get anyone to come with me,” the daughter now says,
here at last, alone, an inhabitant of her life.
I do not ask how or why only let myself settle
into the happiness that slides out of her,
a river song of rearranged notes.
For isn’t this how it is?
The way we plan and dream, throw
ourselves into the center
of large and glittering things, then circle wide
the question, the answer, a name
for freedom we assign
to someone else.
Until the day it doesn’t matter
what looks different or why,
how we begin or allow the small splinter
of courage to squeeze through our numbness
as you and I stand in the porch light after dinner
in the frame of every shadow
that’s wedged its will between us,
in the haven of all our sweetened words.
And every closed fist
of memory opens to shake
out the dross that turns
my feet to goodbye.