He walks, rosary in hand, up the steps.
His tread is broken, fragile, and the joggers
Might hear his breath, each sharp inhalation,
Each hissing exhalation, were it not for their
Own breathless haste, their pounding feet,
Strutting out their health in upward bounds.
He takes a rest; age has bowed him.
He wipes his brow. Sweat runs. Through
The portico wall he watches the landscape
Sizzle in the heat. Yet his feet are cold, so cold.
No warmth can touch his extremities. The
Deafening din of the cicadas sends him on.
“Maria, beloved, only one, let me reach you,
Give my feet strength, give my heart strength.”
(666 arches up to San Luca, and how many steps?
The devil is in the detail.) “Thank you, Maria, you
Came to me in my dream, angel-light into this
Dismal exile they call a Home.”
Back there they will be wondering where he is.
Nurses frantic, ringing round, searching.
For months he sat slumped in his chair, they saw
Him as already dead to the world, bled white of memory,
Hands twitching to death’s tune, his soul dribbling down
His neck, wan eyes watering into dissolution.
But his pallour was contempt of all around –
Dead to that, yes; turning inwards, away from
The reek of disinfection toward memory fragrant
With images of youth, his fingers dancing, his body
Welling up with tears as he remembered her smile,
An incandescence, illumination, true beauty.
Onwards, upwards, she will be waiting like the last time,
Her bridal tresses spilling from the sun, her gaze towards
Him, a bouquet growing from her hands, from her waist the
Cathedral train carrying all their dreams, and behind her
San Luca, the organ music swelling the oleander-sweetened
Air; she will be there, waiting for the last time.
He climbs the final barrage of steps, and turns the corner.
That is where the police await him, and Sister Grace,
Who claps her hands in what could be indignation or relief,
And he falls to his knees, his lips murmuring her name.
“But your Maria is dead, Giorgio, long dead!” (Sister Grace shakes
Her head), and she takes his hand and leads him away.
She had found the faded photograph of the wedding by his
chair, the rest had been intuition. Back in the home
He appears confused, restless, in his bed he complains of
Knocking – “don’t you hear it?” – and when the morning
Comes he really is dead to the world, across his wizened
Face an expression of grief too hard to bear.