The Bells that Clang Off-Key Invent New Noons
Florence, 2008
Downpour.  Under the colonnade,
a man from China teaches me about opera, 
and Italian vowels, and how Italian words 
ping inside the muscles of the face like ball-
peen hammers tuning the skull’s hollows.
He tells me how he trained for twenty years 
to mimic the sounds that all Italian babies 
learn at “ciao.” Sun breaks through the clouds. 
The plaza fills with sun and rain.  As for Orfeo,
I believe in genius, and I know if I could hear 
the voice Ovid himself shied from describing, 
I’d understand the poverty in how I praise.  But it 
moves me more to imagine the man beside me 
singing scales—and to think how he could hear  
when he didn’t reach the notes, like a painter 
who mixes grays and golds but fails to match 
the sky. I hold out my hand and he closes 
his fingers on my wrist, taking my pulse. 
He claims it tells him a lot about me, 
until I believe that somehow, in the blood-beat, 
he can read my fate’s trajectory, as though 
he hears my footsteps on the slope I keep 
ascending in the dark. Will I be one whose song 
shatters the mountains, or just a fool 
who fiddles in the scree?  What does it mean that I 
want him to know, and never tell me?
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