Across the Lagoon to the Fugitive Sea
Philip Quinn

A woman did love me briefly on the steps of the Rialto, the world passing us by.

A woman did love me briefly as the lion of St. Mark did grin and glow with its alien certainties.

A woman did love me briefly in the Cathedral of S. Maria Assunta, Torcello, our hands cold and together.

A woman did love me briefly as I seized the rusting iron circle held in the mouth of one of God's bearish creatures on the bronze door of the Basilica of St. Mark and offered it to her as a ring.

My prayers are not as fervent as they once were. When my elbow burst through the parchment of my dried skin, I knew that my days were numbered.

Soft were her eyes and greenish-blue, her seas cresting with a sparkling light.

At night, the click of her fingers on the abacus, a place in the universe with the lights still on.

The dream remains the same; to vacate this cold place and sashay down the promenade, my basket filled with flowers, and on my head, a fabulous velvet hat.

A man half-crazy with the sun and the wine-like smell of her perfume, I dip my fingers in the tepid water, and make the sign of the cross.

She fetched my hand out of its pocket. When she asked me what my password was, I said terror.

Scarred from the accident, right eye pulled downwards.

Steps of Alumni Hall, carrying a copy of Ulysses and dropping a term paper, pulling dandelions until our hands were lime-green.

It was important to visit that place, smelling of lilacs and black locust trees, breathing in the rain, a threat to reason.

On the steps of the Rialto, we stare down at the lime-green coat of algae and the tadpoles and frogs breaking the surface, creating trails of open water.

The emperor had two koi that he hand-fed in a separate pond.

When one died, the other seemed so lost that he returned it to the others.

When the emperor died, his son scattered his ashes in the empty pond.

The woman removed her shoes, walked barefoot in the cemetery, the grass wet. With her gloved hands, she touched the moss-covered stone, and remembered his letters and poems, and his insistence that she visit him in Venice.

Even now, after all these years, she imagined she had.