They Were Never Wrong

In the city of Cosimo de’ Medici,
two soldiers in fatigues, with automatic rifles;
two armed policemen – one overweight,
a family man, the other tanned, young
and assisting; and three paramedics – one
a girl who struggles with the ambulance’s
sliding door, and all in hi-viz yellow: have come
to take a youth, who lies, grey hooded,
in a station doorway. This tableau, somewhere
west of Bethlehem, freezes, waiting
for the painter and an easel. Gets me,
the tourist on the bus. I do my best,
in honour of the city on the Arno.

The boy’s dark hair, and deep, deep skin
speaks of Africa, His thin legs dangle,
too weak to take the weight his small
life needs to bear.  What care he will
receive, I’ll never know – nor whether
poverty, drugs or drink had brought
him low. A refugee unsheltered or
feeble menace to the state?

The bus takes me away
and Mozart whispers in my ears.
And round our city palaces and galleries,
the fortresses of our past and care,
oil-painted waters pluck and pound.

A Classical Education

Dante and Beatrice [1883]
Henry Holiday [1839-1927]
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

The things men want.
There are
the held high breasts of
Beatrice’s companion as she
arches backwards
to look at him –
this strange man
in velvet green whose orange red tights
match the lining of his gown, his hat,
probably his thoughts,
and her.

But colour-blind Dante wants
none of that
very attainable-looking stuff.
The girl in red
has a foot shaped
like a snake’s head.
At the triangular junction
of her legs and belly
a ripple of cloth gathers

But, Dante, his face
enclosed forever in a Florentine sneer
that would sour wine,
ignores the obvious,
put there by the painter
for his obvious ease,
and stares
at the rose
held like him
where satiny cloth billows
under Beatrice’s chin.

His left hand grips his ribs,
his gown, as if he has misplaced
his heart.
Beatrice decides wisely
to ignore this man.
Her shift clings to her legs
and her feet
are already dancing away.
Her body is for the birds,
and for horticulture.