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Excerpt: 'The Eternal City'

The Eternal City

The Eternal City

The attic fan rattles in its hammered tin house -- as seemingly ceaseless
as the body's unquiet engine. Today something's gone awry: the drone,
usually poised, a nearly silent arpeggio, has become a disinterested scream.
This is the third heat wave of July. Again the fire department
sounds the citywide alarm & then police cars wail. Rome is burning!
But Rome is not burning. Instead I am reading, in a shrill hum,
about Marcus Aurelius -- because this is what I do on days too hot
to move -- the heads of the red geraniums steaming in their planters --
too hot to imagine that we might send up our lives in flames.
The mind is more than a simple container, the junk drawer
beside the stove. My thoughts clang like pennies in the dryer.
O, my racket—ice against the blender's wall of glass. The Eternal City,
Brodsky writes, is like a gigantic old brain, one that's grown
a little weary of the world. And what have we here? Tarnished keys.
A chipped teardrop from some dining room's chandelier. The trick
must be to love both the blade & the air it shatters. A flock of birds
meets the airplane's roaring turbines. We pass the stuff from which
we're made—look, a single pocked marble & a spent emery board—
through our own propellers. The phone rings, but I don't answer
though I've been expecting it. It stops, then rings again. Still—
I don't pick up. Loneliness, our one defendable empire. Aurelius, too,
loved metaphors: the inland lake on the island Aenaria; in that lake,
there is another island, it, too, inhabited.
O, my acrobats, in the dark
capital of nested boxes, be with me always, secure & tumbling.

Excerpted from The Eternal City by Kathleen Graber Copyright 2010 by Kathleen Graber. Excerpted by permission of Princeton University Press.

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Kathleen Graber