I.We enter the city as one might enter a sentence,a sentence that falls with us as we plummet,a structure of passages, turns, and descentsenclosing us more the more we become it.Walls peel in gelato chips—pesca, albicocca—and darken to doorways at spring’s full sprint.This city, this sentencing—neither needs an advocate.Neither can be commuted. Predicament:so many ways to die, but so few to enda sentence. A pedestrian stop. A bang!And what of that circuitous route which wendsits way like a snake toward the fruit of its choosing?We punctuate this city, delivered a whilenot from fate, of course, but a wrongful exile.II.While my father lay dying, I walked the streets of Florence,his sentence unclear at almost a year’s ellipsis . . .I battled street vendors and Catholic self-abhorrence,gorging on boar and autumn cruciferous.His grandparents were Tuscan. Everyone plainlylooked like a cousin, a gallows humor gotchafor a peasant family strained through Pennsylvania—at sixty-eight, he’d never pronounced focaccia.Can anyone tie a tie from a diagram?Dad stood behind me in the mirror wherehe’d later see his father, minus the tie-tack.I liked doing things on my own. Got it. Scram.What might he declare? “The autodidacthas a fool for a master.” We each had that to bear.III.Can’t keep this up, the city seems to say.Pellegrino, pecorino, palazzo, piazza, pizza, piccata,peccata—always coming into being, alwaysgiving way, the pattern must break somewhere.I need to be interior. I need an empty cathedraland the small vote of a votive.I need a place to try out my Italian,some hidden stairwell, steel and stucco, to reportthe small and pointless echo when I l’uomo.Up, up, up. We’re an uppity lot. But whenthe shit goes downity, amici miei, we all go solo.We all want—what?—some grace in our days beforewe fall, keep falling. What else is new.We pray for the heavens to give, then the floors do.
Copyright © 2018 by Kevin McFadden
Illustration copyright © 2018 by Jeff Pike
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
Kevin McFadden is the author of the poetry collection, Hardscrabble, which won the Great Lakes Colleges Association and Fellowship of Southern Writers new poetry awards. He is also a letterpress printer, book artist, and a member of the creative community at the Virginia Center for the Book, a program of Virginia Humanities, in Charlottesville.
Jeff Pike is an illustrator and a professor of design at Washington University in St. Louis. He has published a boxed, letterpress book of illustrations responding to works of fiction by two authors titled From Letters to Fictions: Heloise & Abelard. Illustration from his previous VABC collaborative poetry collection, After Love, was accepted into the 53rd Annual New York Society of Illustrators exhibition.
City of Dante is a poetry sequence by Kevin McFadden collaboratively based on illustrations by Jeff Pike. The sequence of fourteen poems is an elegy on a father’s death that walks not only in the footsteps of Dante’s Florence but also retraces the spiritual stations between doubt and belief. Originally created for a handmade, limited-edition book at the Virginia Center for the Book, the challenge, according to the artists, “was not just poems that react to images, but images and text that interweave and create a new journey.”