Poems June 2021
A stroll in the rain
When I was a boy and weekdays walked my mile
to school and, I like to say, two miles coming home,
no child was sent out into precipitation without some
serious protection, a garb like hazmat gear, juvenile
versions of a style suited to the Grand Banks: bright
canary-yellow slickers, and Gloucester hats as well,
and galoshes that looked like seaman’s boots and fell
heavily as stones as we stomped in puddles in spite
of admonitions not to get wet and catch our deaths.
Back then even grownups, if there was the merest
hint of rain, went no place at all, not to the nearest
store and certainly not to work, without latex sheaths
in their attachés that could encase their shiny leather
shoes in coverings known by a name that did not refer
only to what discouraged pregnancy or a rain of fire
upon the privates, but to what kept off bad weather.
The times keep changing. In the settecento Veneto,
when the hottest painter was an undemonstrative
practitioner of a style once dismissed as decorative
and now much admired, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo,
the damp local climate was never seen on ceilings
of the ancestral villas he and his son filled with swirls
of cloud holding graybeard men and pink-skinned girls
clad in light and silk alone, raiment typically revealing
widely spaced, petite breasts below hair piled high
in elaborate coifs dressed in pearls, and neither satin
nor braid nor an aged hand giving a gentle pat on
a naked hip are ever anything but confidently dry,
in spite of acqua alta and the Brenta in autumn spate
and the unabated inundation of disastrous news
regarding political decline and revolutionary views
that assailed La Serenissima’s no longer stable state.
If you like your figures more realistic and less static,
albeit fully clothed and thus in the end less fetching,
consider a mysterious series of undated etchings
by Giandomenico, the son, of which the most enigmatic
is a promenade sometimes titled A Stroll in the Rain.
The rain in question is just a sprinkle, and the stroll
at best an amble, an almost aimless drift of seven souls
towards a grove of trees they are in no hurry to gain.
It looks to be a family outing: man, woman, and child,
their three servants, and say a friend, walk with faces
hidden, their backs to us, proceeding at a stately pace
while a bored dog with nothing to chase stands in profile
giving us the only eye we see. No one has ever explained
why one retainer is dressed as Punch, and no one knows
why sunless shadows fall or where everybody’s supposed
to be going. Something called. They went. It rained.
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 39 Number 10, on page 22
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