(for Nicanor Parra, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Nat Scammacca)
Poets, I have come down
not just from Brooklyn Heights or Olympus
but from Erice
in Trapani, Sicily.
From the pinnacle
I beheld a vista:
White clouds covering
everything like a mythic sea—
only a single rock rising
out of the soft white mist.
The boulder that Polyphemus threw
at Odysseus and his crew
escaping from this the isle
of grapes and sheep and Cyclops?
Yes, I descended down the trail
through vineyards where shepherds
in secret groves listened to the tales
of Trinacrian messengers from the new world.
Stories of ancient Greek and Elymian days
when every man who came out of the mist,
appeared between the rocks,
shadowed out of the sacred woods,
Spoke prophecies and warnings:
foretold destruction of crops and cattle,
the withering of the grape, lemon, and nespole,
the coming of scirocco winds drier than flames.
Wide-eyed the shepherds filled great goblets
of nectar, foaming like the spume of ships against the tides,
currents twisting and deflecting courses
redetermined by angered gods of the sea.
Open-mouthed they skewered great shanks of lamb,
turned their skins over the licking flames,
dripping fat and exuding aromatic swirls
delighting the woodland dryads and Homeric visitors.
Yes, I descended not into the maelstrom,
not into the nether world of pale shades, Limbo,
beyond the rivers Styx and Lethe,
not down into a sunless sea,
But, accompanied by a contadino—
a man without a sky, with lentils in
his mother's pot, earth for a floor,
leading his white Arabian stallion—
We spiraled the legendary labyrinths
of this Western Trapanese acropolis
(parallel to the Eastern Etna,
burial site of Titans),
Together with the sacred horse—
a gift from the peak above the clouds,
a quadruped without a spiraled horn or wings to fly—
we came down beneath the sky of white mist and visions,
Down to the base of Olympian struggles,
down to the broken streets and red-tiled villas,
the horse staggering under its load of ambrosian fruits,
we came down, came down from Erice,
And the street vender uttered his diurnal cry:
“Lemons, tomatoes, grapes! Beautiful, tasty, full of juice!
If you want them, they are here for you;
if you don’t, I don’t give a shit anyway!”
STANLEY H. BARKAN