Did Strauss himself think of contemporary Orthodoxy as more than an absurd possibility?
Piazza San Marco
Here at the labyrinth’s heart, I find the air
Is scintillant, just like the postcards show:
A dream of light and strict geometries.
Where the lagoon’s receded from the square
Gray stones are dazzled with a blinding glow,
And crowds wait, wincing, in the shimmer’s frieze
Like marble waiting for some word or spell
To conjure limbs to life from lifeless stasis,
Or nomads, stunned to find a sudden well
Amid the endless sands, or an oasis.
I feel it. Nightly angst, ennui, and gloom
Refine the human need for some perfection,
Some otherwhere outside routine’s dark delves,
And here we are in “Europe’s drawing room,”
Napoleon’s choicest spot. Sun-glare’s reflection
In café windows, we can’t see ourselves
At all, which is, I guess, why we worked out
Ways to scrounge up cash, made the plans, and took
The flights. We’ve dreamed the us we’ve dreamed about
Awaits us here. But no, not here. See, look:
The old clock’s broken, Venetians flee en masse,
The ones stuck here hawk trinkets. For a coin
Tourists go chattering by St. Mark’s bones,
And maybe stop a second, as they pass,
Thinking of their rivals back home in Des Moines,
To snap some well-posed selfies with their phones.
Outside, a blizzard of chivalric white,
The sea-gulls swarm, whirling in clean white air,
And then descend, like jagged shards of light,
To peck to death a pigeon in the square,
Removing flesh until, pink as a tongue,
The innards show. The passersby ignore
The bird, the wound. But there’s a girl with bread,
One not too busy being rich or young,
Crouched in the square, small, casting morsels for
The living ones. A saint, I almost said—
It is illegal here to feed a pigeon,
Yet she does, quietly, sure that the law,
Which holds the bottom line’s the true religion,
Shall not expunge this world’s dark, winged flaw.
Ryan Wilson is the author of The Stranger World, winner of the Donald Justice Poetry Prize, and of How to Think Like a Poet. His work appears in Best American Poetry, Five Points, the Hopkins Review, the New Criterion, the Sewanee Review, the Yale Review, and other journals. Currently, he teaches at The Catholic University of America and is the editor of Literary Matters.
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