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  • After Pompeii, and: Following the Animals, and: Sprawl, and: Punishment
  • Ishion Hutchinson (bio)

After Pompeii

When the rivers sing in this country of drunk rivers, the ovens dance; the city’s heart splayed on that cobbled lane was transplanted from Pompeii,

the Pompeii great rains fell coins fullones took and spun into silk, so we that walk in daylight are walking on the cries of a wild feast;

when we walk the smoke-pummeled sky, women sizzle like seltzer and bells striking noon on terraces. The squares are melting gelatos; pageants of tankers

glide to General Sulla’s order; war pigeons drop Morse to submarines buried under a Medici’s robe; an out-of-work professor, who is also an assassin,

hangs a bag of oranges on a tree in the park, crosses his legs and sleeps and dreams an orchard of orange trees on the Orange Blossom Coast.

The alley shadows are not shy: tenderness opens in their cool darkness and under flowering marquees and in cafés and pizza joints; [End Page 17]

tenderness is affordable, and we spend like nothing, for the day when a breeze shakes us in twilight, like it shook the leaves on the villa of the baker

Terentius Neo—but that was no breeze; a sigh of the first flame from an oil lamp licking mirrors, the river, the curtains; strummed

a vase, the hills: Neo’s wife in her red cloak, a rock guitar solo dashing white bulls into the sea and we, we sink into the fray of a bright, brass music.

Following the Animals

Ephphatha, please. In flight of green and yellow fields going to see Giotto’s fresco in the Scrovegni Chapel, I lost faith to the trees chattering Ge’ez on the train’s sliding glass through towns still as Dis; graffiti flicker on station walls, life-glints, that arch-heretics live on in the Sixth Circle. I arrive to the usual cobbled alleys, the usual fountains encrusted with pigeons, the panic, unusual, but there when I turn a corner, to someone, something just leaving. I follow the animals [End Page 18] inside the church to Joachim’s expulsion, a man barren as his wife. I conceive of his desert, since my Anne, fed up, stings me nightly with her asp tongue, our crib of reed reeking with weed in a closet. I hurry to Christ’s birth and life, then that out-of-order scene: Judas’s pact with the priests; behind him, a black devil, blacker beside his sienna robe, grins at me with blessed recognition; well, that devil exited with me into the murmur of tourists and cypress spindling a distant hill. The end of April. The month Rome was founded, and as I head back to the station with my new pal, rumors broke of the pope’s death and Christ’s resurrection.


Amid ice and granite sea hush and crash and profit and the loss

the prophet Xeroxed in his tamarind shade and wasp buzz and saw

in the hills crashed leaves and virgins’ suicides right after the election [End Page 19]

and November’s Janus and Pontius Pilate’s maggot snipers’ amen

and fortunately I forgot to be afraid and kept my fear in the salt

chiseling my face when I read Keats and loved the ash

and put two coins in my right palm amid the crashed crop

century of wheat drought rosary terra cotta Kali reconnaissance

renaissanced my nipples torpedoed and rocked the strobe-lit stage show

the Gorgon’s scintillated romance foiled the constable’s peace and Herodotus

slept as the prophet rose his chalice and put on his mongrel pelt

and it rained softly and blessed nothing scarce of breath

and grated nutmeg and the tyranny of sugar and pure cream soda [End Page 20]

enclosed in cinders shook burst fizzed and I found my shape

shifted ciphered raw

my total reversal my total reversal my total reversal


All the dead eyes of the dead on portraits behind her looked down as she ate donuts off a spread-out napkin, her mouth sugared, I saw myself possessed by myself in her glasses’ milky lens that possessed...


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pp. 17-23
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