For Montale at the Palio, 1938

How beautiful and inventive, you think,
the grand banners of the contrade—
“Wave” with a silvery fish
swimming at the center, Snail, Tortoise, Giraffe
and the crowned Goose—sunburst and slashes of red.
And the slight sense of irony
about the aggressions—this is what
you loved about your country.

But now, an odor of rage
invades the purple pit
of the Campo, the groaning
riot of souls. And Irma, being Jewish
and very striking, looks around anxiously
though for you she always looks
into eternity.

(But where is that--the ruby
in whose water the images stir? In Duccio’s
rectangles and quiet colors
which outlive us all,
where the faces tell us Herod’s soldiers
do not like killing the children?)

Too soon, Irma will go home
to America, Mussolini
having promulgated the “Racial Laws.”

I too have come to fear
things I once found charming
about my country: boisterous bar-room put-downs
unfitting on the lips of a head of state
inviting a crowd to rage—
their hypnotized
faces, each of which, I must remember,
has a soul.

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