by Lauren Goodwin Slaughter
The wells are done and the oranges over.
Overlapping stone, dust. Silence
whips between the walls and streets.
I see an urn that real hands grasped.
So. We are here. And the Swedish
family in crisp bandanas, a flushed
Floridian, a red sea of kid shirts,
as a woman leans against a column
nursing her sweaty child.
Her watch spotlights the improbable
Roman shopkeeper’s sign.
Like the teens’ cell phones pitched
too high: the past wails a place
beyond bounds. Above the excavation
a new town—
laundry from balconies
like children crossing the street.
In a too-British voice the audiotour
points us towards The House of the Genius
with its broken Cupid candlestick,
to the Villa of the Papyri’s
carbonized scrolls and frescos
of immortal Hercules
who was once too strong to master the lyre
and with one dumb blow killed the tutor
he loved. In House #22 a mosaic:
teal ocean curls behind
Amphitrite and Neptune—gold
sex spills off each small square.
The boathouse is the resting place
of the Ring Lady named for the circles
still round her bones. She tried to breathe
in the gas first, the voice says, ash, then so much
rock flying. From her pelvis the experts
understood how many children she bore.
Whose faces looked to her before the air jammed?
What softness could her hands not find?
Son, you have yet to come into this world—
my belly is full
with my own sure failures
doubling now with our blood.