* * *
Inside Imperato’s Camera delle Meraviglie
Ferrante Imperato directs us to look up
as if to the constellations,
though crustaceans swim above us instead.
Starfish and moon snails.
When we ask, he identifies cockles and conch
among the flying fish—
fans, he says, of water and air.
Meanwhile his son, Francesco,
with a pointer the length of his arm,
aims at a crocodile where a chandelier
should hang. Chameleon and flamingo,
sea urchin and seal, uncanny the face
of what’s that creature looking down at us?
Have we lost our compass?
On what axis are we spinning
in this eely otherworld—
not knowing, all of a sudden, what writhes
or flies. What’s here. Far?
Silent now, our guide
leans against a window’s diamond pane
in the ebbing light of his wonder room
as if to say how thin it is between.
* * *
When My Son Jumped Into the East River to Save New York From a Bomb
I tried to remember how he’d learned to swim—
I must have taught him—
but trying to remember reminded me of squinting
at a line of optometrist’s letters,
that fuzz of recognition that clears or disappears
blink by blink.
What I did remember was how at seven or eight
he loved diving from the high board,
how I never took my eyes off the spot
where he’d gone in
before he surfaced, seal-slick, hunting praise.
And as one memory bears another
I’m back at the ocean the day
lifeguards waved everyone out—
breakers swelling, clouds wheeling
like murmurations of starlings
as my son waded farther away from shore,
ignoring my cries until in the slantwise rain,
when he could barely stand,
he turned around.
In between so much is curtained.
Even when the letters come into focus,
sharp as any lens can render,
they spell nothing that makes sense.