Fresco Magic

John Reibetanz

1. PompeiiLook how they made walls vanish     not by running through them
Harry-Potter-style     but by painting them with what lay
beyond     hillsides of nimble-limbed olive trees dandlingclustered fruit from silver fingers     wind-furrowed wheatfields
squirrels lacing the nearby oak groves     and if you threw
wide the batten-framed shutters your eyes would be treatednot trumped     with flourishes setting inner and outer
in harmony     grace notes of lacquered vines in duet
with sun-gilded grapes     shadows bridging from garden dialsto gnomons atop enameled globes     not a still life
among them     all in motion     whether counterpointing
the sun’s steady pace or quickened by the caperingsof torchlight     the builders not weighed down with all you know
about the heavy rain of pumice that melted roofs
muffled transoms and blinded windows     for they looked onstone walls as wells of shifting light     their view not monu-
mental but moment-centred     waving wands of trowel
and brush to summon up a flute breathlessly upraisedfor your fingering     or jug-eared Silenus reeling
from a column     or Aurora herself in mid-step
winking at you to join in the dance     now you see it
 2. Villa Cicogna MozzoniHis brother the Count and heir can’t stand the place     too far
from wi-fi     women     and song     so Jacopo tends it
tending mostly meaning standing after the rains     perchedhigh on a rung     patching cracked stucco or shoring up
tipsy roof-tiles     to keep the damp from feasting on aged
plaster and making a velouté of the frescoescomposed in the 1560s by two craftsmen from
Cremona     whose art was brush rather than awl     and who
brought back through pigment-magic the century-old glowof the Duke of Milan’s visit     but Jacopo’s most
cherished frescoes aren’t Young Agostino Mozzoni
Saves Duke Galeazzo from the Ferocious Bear     orthe untitled bedroom panels whose red paint takes on
the nap and fall of velvet     or the hallway’s presti-
digitation     where the marble balustrade your handreaches for dissolves into a flat mirror-image
of its solid counterpart     but rather those vistas
that open view on view like Russian dolls     the stone-browedportal framing a hall whose floor tiles gleam with sunlight
from some unglimpsed window     and whose foreshortened walls frame
another hall     where three thin-thinner-thinnest rays laygold stripes across a narrowing blue runner that ends
before the smallest hall targets your eye on a nub
of window at its heart     or the scene most at his heartperhaps because most exposed     outdoors where the arcade’s
painted sky peeks through a painted trellis supporting
espaliered branches     bunches of grapes     and climbing handsand feet of two putti grinning down from opposite
sides of the ceiling     each boy either upright or up-
side-down     grapes dangling or levitating     dependingon whose chubby-fingered grip you focus     Jacopo’s
weathered hands touching all the magic     his feet knowing
the ache of keeping such laddered airiness aloft

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John Reibetanz is a professor of English at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College as well as the author of ten collections of poetry, including Near Relations (McClelland & Stewart 2005), Transformations (Goose Lane, 2006) and Afloat (Brick Books, 2013). His poems have been featured in Poetry, The Paris Review, Canadian Literature and The Malahat Review, among others. He lives in Toronto.

selected by Jeffery Donaldson

The Essential John Reibetanz provides a compelling view of the work of a deeply engaged poet whose exploratory syntax and probing imagery come together to form intense meditations on the nature of community and the transfigurative power of the imagination.

John Reibetanz is a poet of transformation. His poetry is tightly woven through syntax that closely responds to the movement of feeling and thought. He dexterously interweaves his own lived experience with the landscape of the imagination, exploring the metaphysical dimensions of the physical world and the mythic resonances of fundamental human concerns. In so doing, his work reveals the poet’s underlying longing to engage fully with the overwhelming abundance of life.

The Essential Poets Series presents the works of Canada’s most celebrated poets in a package that is beautiful, accessible and affordable. The Essential John Reibetanz is the 16th volume in the increasingly popular series.

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