Three boys, old enough to hurt someone,
young enough to think it doesn't matter,
sat outside the small green plot I came to.
Dante's grave. All of us pulled there,
experiencing gravity, out of control
for different reasons. I could not prepare,
really, for facing this, just as these boys—
smoking too deliberately, collars relieved
like rose petals from the extravagant
ceilings of basilicas—could not understand
their own indifference, or why they huddled,
stared when I walked by. They were a type
of beauty, as far as beauty is ignorant of itself,
disdainful of place: that casual square,
Franciscan façade, that entire city turning
under the swelter of an afternoon, June
in the marshlands to the east. Sometimes,
I stand in front of history and feel nothing.
Then, some wrecked mosaic, awkward
in the transom of a secondary church, behaves
just so, as if the artists thought of me and all
my imperfections. Sometimes, people gather
in the hearts of forgotten cities, and I hate them
for their nonchalance, the terror in their boredom.
They have been dying here for millennia, these boys,
and there is little I can do, on this casual trip
in the heat, map in hand, to guide them out.
From the Fire Hills
Southern Illinois University Press