KR OnlinePoetry

A Baby in the Piazza

                          What’s the difference between Eisenhower-era horror movies
and the Italian Renaissance? Not a whole lot, I think to myself
                          as I cross the piazza after a night of drinking with friends,
and suddenly a wolf tears past, the moon rises and sets
                          and rises again, clouds race across the sky, vines snake up trees,

                          temple columns, the legs of passersby as the fog rolls over
the low wall that separates the river from the city, down
                          the galleries and alleyways until it covers the cars, the buildings,
the people who feel as though they’ve been blindfolded
                          and spun about in a children’s game, and there’s a long silence,

                          the tolling of a bell—one, two, three—then more silence still,
and, from somewhere in the mist, the cry of a baby.
                          Even the statues seem to hear it: Judith pauses as she cuts off
the head of Holofernes, David turns away from Goliath,
                          and Perseus looks in bewilderment at the head of Medusa

                          as it, too, turns left and right, mouth opening and closing
silently, like a monster in one of those horror movies I loved
                          as a kid: Cannibal Holocaust, Bloodsucking Freaks, City
of the Living Dead
. Perseus is the mightiest work of the most
                          mighty of sculptors, the Benvenuto Cellini who, when

                          his own powers wane, summons those of the underworld:
in Rome he falls hard for a Sicilian girl named Angelica,
                          but when her mother gets wind of his plans, she spirits
the girl back to Sicily. Beside himself, Cellini hires a priest
                          who has a reputation as a conjurer of demons, and off they go

                          to the Colosseum along with several other sketchy
characters as well as the one figure the priest insists
                          is necessary to the rite, “a little boy of pure virginity,”
which is how I might have described myself as a young
                          moviegoer had I been familiar with the word “virginity.”

                          Not all the films I saw as a kid were of the-gore-the-merrier
type. Some were downright silly, like Thankskilling, in which
                          the killer is a talking turkey who wears the teen protagonists’
dead dad’s face, though no one seems to notice. And then
                          there was The Tingler, which was about a parasite in the human

                          body that fed on fear, the idea being that you should see
a scary movie and try not to get scared. The theater seats were
                          wired to vibrate, and ads promised that nurses would be on duty
in the aisles, and there they were, five women with upswept hair
                          and starched uniforms. It would be years before I looked back

                          and thought how hard-faced those nurses were, how they
smoked cigarettes and chewed gum, how little they were
                          like the nurses at the doctor’s office, and I began to wonder
if they didn’t make their living some other way, but then
                          sex was not on the menu yet for me, though it would be.

                          In the Colosseum, Cellini holds a pentagram over
the little boy’s head while the others throw perfume
                          on the fire and chant in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.
If Cellini had seen as many horror movies as I have,
                          he might have guessed that the ceremony would work

                          too well: thousands of demons appear and tell Cellini
that “in a month, you will be where Angelica is,”
                          only now what is he going to do about all those demons?
The little boy is shrieking in terror, saying, “This is
                          how I will meet death, for we are certainly dead men,”

                          which is a funny way for a kid to describe himself,
since he was no more a man than I was when I was his age,
                          though I was beginning to get interested in the things
men liked, such as women, and my taste in films changed
                          accordingly, leading me to Piranha 3-D, for example,

                          which probably contains the only 3-D boobs-bouncing-
underwater scene ever filmed, and Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS,
                          the protagonist of which is a camp commandant
who rapes a male prisoner every night and punishes him
                          with castration and death when he ejaculates.

                          A single prisoner, an American, can avoid ejaculating,
and it is he who leads the successful revolt at the film’s end.
                          I wanted to be that prisoner. I didn’t think about ejaculation
in those days, though being a hero and defeating my country’s
                          enemies was something that fit nicely into my future plans.

                          Cellini and the priest and the boy form a sort of scrum
to shoulder their way out of the Colosseum and make their way
                          home as two of the devils gambol in front of them, skipping
now along the roofs and now on the ground. A month goes by,
                          and on the last day, Cellini visits Naples and finds Angelica,

                          who had arrived three days before him, though he soon tires
of her and heads back to Rome. And here am I now
                          in this piazza, where all is silent, and then the baby cries again.
Where are you, baby? I am not a hero. I never won a war.
                          But I will help you if I can find you. And then I do:

                          the baby is right out of a painting by Leonardo or Raphael,
and it stops crying when it sees me, and I don’t know
                          if it’s speaking or not, but I can hear its voice,
and when I say, “Who are you, baby?” the baby says,
                          “I’m you, David. I’m you when you were little,

                          and I’m you now as you are today,” and I say, “Are you
also the David who watched those stupid horror movies?”
                          and the baby says, “They weren’t stupid! They were
readying you for life, for desire and danger.” I say,
                          “Are those the same thing, baby?” and the baby says,

                          “They might as well be, David. There can be danger
without desire, but there’s no desire without danger.
                          Nothing’s worth loving unless it can kill you,”
and I say, “You sure know a lot for a baby,”
                          and the baby says, “The fox provides for himself,

                          but God provides for the lion,” and I start to say,
what does that even mean, but instead I say, “I loved
                          those movies. I wanted to grow up, meet girls, travel.
But sitting there in the dark, sometimes I felt as though
                          I were dying and going to hell, yet I wanted

                          that, too,” and the baby says, “Some call it hell,
some call it paradise. Not the paradise of the Bible,
                          though,” and I say, “What, then?” and the baby says,
“It’s another paradise altogether. It’s where your life
                          started, your real life. It’s where you began to dream.”