I. Night Ferry
Everywhere the city looks over my shoulder. The air grows colder
and sticks to wet stones, the old houses rescued from the rising water, even the covered boat where I take refuge
from the wind, still it tousles the pages of my guidebook. The ferry disengages
from the docks, and I am far away. The Adriatic salts the undersides of boats
as they depart from the city, fade. I lean and see what is made
in their wake. I know I will not find my dissolution here in this city of water and stone,
where I’m a hierophant to the past. They enchant
me, these things. I always knew they’d make the veil I’d glimpse things through.
Tonight, distantly, the cold air comes off the square,
where all those people, bundled in winter coats, line up to buy tickets for the boats.
Everywhere the city disguises them from each other. The black ferry moves. The water rises
in the dark. The people disembark. [End Page 75]
II. The Marriage of the Sea
The city remembered nothing of what I dreamed. Only how strange it seemed
from the water when the Doge’s hand, or his black glove, opened,
and he released the ring to wed the Adriatic, and the ring
settled twice: first, on the lagoon’s surface,
which represented, I thought, the comfort
of the living moment, and which yielded to the ring; and, later, in the earth beneath the water,
which was fierce as history, and which yielded to it also, after many years,
and found stasis in the past, which was its rest,
not in the luster of ceremonies, but in the darkness which comes after.
III. Self-Portrait in Venetian Mask
The mask with a long sharp beak I found, an antique
in a store of relics, displayed on the wall. The mask I tried on. Like a shade,
it kept me from my life. You, too, have wishedfor something else, you have vanished [End Page 76]
almost fully, the mask said, as if a mask critiquing itself could convince me it was not my own mouth speaking.
IV. Serenissima Elegy
The city cleaved things: together and apart: a bridge restrained one ancient house from another:
the whole city was reflected below the city: the bridge where they hanged prisoners: the tableau
of bodies held suspended as on a frieze, splendid
with color and movement: thousands of bits of glass: small islands
of gold and purple and bronze glued into images: a pagan nude
with a feather: halos in concentric rings: the rudder cut its dark path through the water,
pushing wake to either side, as if sorting testimonies of love from jealousy: from above,
it must have looked like the black canal was rent apart, halved, no matter where I went. [End Page 77]
Richie Hofmann is the recipient of a 2012 Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, among other honors. His poems have appeared in a number of magazines, including Poetry, FIELD, Yale Review, and the New Yorker. He is currently pursuing an M.F.A. in the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars.