by Randall Mann
We arrive at Piazza Mazzini.
Tonight, Sabina’s playing the role
of Girlfriend slash Translator,
and I the role of Hungry Poet.
It’s easier this way.
X opens his double-doors.
X, who wants to be a poet, of course,
Roman, rheumy, limited X.
This is my wife, Y, he says;
she’s pretty, or was, he says,
and pats her face.
It is still light out; they crawl
into their cocktails.
Y shows me the Picasso
without being showy.
So this is what it’s like,
Picasso in a dusty makeshift frame.
And brings the focaccia sfogliata,
the pepata di cozze.
I tell Y my day job, pharma.
Our firm makes Valium, I tell her.
I like—no, I love—Valium, she shouts, not a little
theatrical, and licks her hand.
Her skirt curiously hiked up by now.
Her handbag a Chanel knockoff, but handmade
at Del Guidice. Undetectable.
Meanwhile, X plays his very own songs, recorded
on a child’s cassette player. Hums along.
Squeezes between me and Sabina,
his hands on our thighs.
By now the new people have arrived.
Z, large in ermine, a known poet
here; and her mousy escort,
her publisher, lover, whatever.
What do you like, Z asks me, meaning
what poets. My mind is a lagged corridor.
I say, let’s start with A: Ashbery.
She says, in English, yes, this Ashbery. Continue.
I give her a secondhand line about anxiety
and the death of meaning. In English.
I don’t understand, she says.
You speak Italian? No.
You speak French?
Badly, I say, in French.
Tell me in French.
I tell her that Ashbery is already in French,
So, if you stay in our home by the sea,
Y interjects, the light in the distance
is no all-night party—
just the milking of the buffalo.
And, pointing to her massive,
muted plasma TV,
this persecution of Berlusconi—
it’s only getting worse.
I tell them why I’ve come here.
I don’t have to tell you why I’ve come here.
Read Q&A with Randall Mann on our blog.