Michael White



I remember the Tintoretto in the nave—
St. Catherine lowering through a votive haze—
and just outside, next to the Romanesque tower,

one great palm crowning the epicenter of
the perfect village perché. City of god,
one seamless exudation of the upthrust

mind of stone; forked lightning of mimosa
blossoming through the valleys miles below.
This wasn’t ten years ago, it was last week:

the moment I stepped back into that lick of sun,
where the only direction was down through a frisson of
medieval alleys, Renaissance staircases

which stumble and catch, which stumble and catch themselves
in vaults, arcades of weightlessness, and bijou
rooftop gardens. But the truth is, something

didn’t feel right. I remember wondering why
La Place de la Grande Fontaine didn’t reek of piss
or of fried sardines; and I didn’t need to see

another pot of bougainvillea, not
another "atelier" with monochrome landscapes
on display. And I was already gone;

I had already reached the gates of La Porte Royale
when the pang of a midwestern diphthong caught my ear.
It was merely a couple of teenaged girls on tour—

one auburn, one dark blonde—relaxing there
on the machicolated ramparts, hundreds of feet above
the vineyard hillsides. After a month abroad,

it was nothing in particular; it was
the voice I missed. The blonde was reclined on her elbows,
one of her ankles propped on the other knee,

her plump calf framing a perfect V of sky . . .
I couldn’t help noticing how the ache in each cell
of her sixteen-year-old body, splitting against

its will—each clearly articulated leaf-tip
pushing out—was figured in the delicate
pencil-line of fuzz traced from the cleft

of her navel, down and beneath the snap of her cut-offs.
Meanwhile, her friend was rambling on, while rocking
back and forth on her palms, as if about

to slip off the edge of a swimming pool or a dock.
"How many seconds do you think it would take? I mean,
you might lose consciousness, black out before

you hit the ground," she said, as she stretched one long
and sandaled foot en pointe into the wind . . .
"But what if you simply gave in? What if you simply

gave in to the ecstasy, the rush
of freefall? Can you imagine the thrill you’d feel?"