We were supposed to do a job in Italy

and, full of our feeling for

ourselves (our sense of being

Poets from America) we went

from Rome to Fano, met

the Mayor, mulled a couple

matters over. “What does mean this ‘flat drink?’ someone asked.

What is “cheap date?” (Nothing we said lessened

this one’s mystery). Among Italian writers we

could recognize our counterparts: the academic,

the apologist, the arrogant, the amorous,

the brazen and the glib. And there was one

administrator (The Conservative), in suit

of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide

with measured pace and uninflected tone

narrated sights and histories

the hired van hauled us past.

Of all he was most politic–

and least poetic– so

it seemed. Our last

few days in Rome

I found a book of poems this

unprepossessing one had written:

it was there in the pensione room (a room he’d recommended)

where it must have been abandoned by

the German visitor (was there a bus of them?) to whom

he had inscribed and dated it a month before. I couldn’t

read Italian either, so I put the book

back in the wardrobe’s dark. We last Americans

were due to leave

tomorrow. For our parting evening then

our host chose something in a family restaurant,

and there we sat and chatted, sat and chewed, till,

sensible it was our last big chance to be Poetic, make

our mark, one of us asked

“What’s poetry?

Is it the fruits and vegetables

and marketplace at Campo dei Fiori

or the statue there?” Because I was

the glib one, I identified the answer

instantly, I didn’t have to think– “The truth

is both, it’s both!” I blurted out. But that

was easy. That was easiest

to say. What followed taught me something

about difficulty,

for our underestimated host spoke out

all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:

The statue represents

Giordano Bruno, brought

to be burned in the public square

because of his offense against authority, which was to say

the Church. His crime was his belief

the universe does not revolve around

the human being: God is no

fixed point or central government

but rather is poured in waves, through

all things: all things

move. “If God is not the soul itself,

he is the soul OF THE SOUL of the world.” Such was

his heresy. The day they brought him forth to die

they feared he might incite the crowd (the man

was famous for his eloquence). And so his captors

placed upon his face

an iron mask

in which he could not speak.

That is how they burned him.

That is how he died,

without a word,

in front of everyone. And poetry–

(we’d all put down our forks by now, to listen to

the man in gray; he went on softly)– poetry

is what he thought, but did not say.