AN ETRUSCAN GENTLEMAN MEDITATES ON HIS WIFEíS TOMB AT SOVANA (© Words by Paul F. Cowlan)

Thereís a narrow cleft in the woods here
like an axe wound in the earth.
To the very bone it seems,
through screens of oak and locust.
But though the cliffs are full of our dead
no-one has ever heard them stirring.

How hard it is to believe in gods.
The sum of all their rituals
is that each moment passes,
planting its spear in the rock.
A sere grass-haft. An irrelevance.
The best songs are always in the past.

That teasing, bright coin in clear water,
tossed out just beyond your reach.
Revenant, glimpsed half-turning,
reflecting a distant sky.
Make a guess, estimate its value,
and convince yourself youíve understood.

But never hope to hold that moment.
Only the splash and glitter;
a glance as it sinks away,
calm and silver in the light.
I consulted Pava the netsvis,
then chose a broad outcrop by the gorge

and hired a team of skilled stone-masons,
with orders for the carving.
The door is well-sealed. She sleeps;
and doesnít hear me whisper,
"I still miss your laughter, Ucernei.
My sweet wife, stolen by jealous gods."

Furled close in the belly of the earth.
Where are they? These Immortals?
However deep we grapple
we never come close to them.
From out in the blue Etruscan sky,
higher than swallows, they hint at us;

for diviners to guess their meaning.
Entrails, lightning, birds in flight.
A scramble of happenstance.
ĎFire-storms in Pars Antica.
Shepherds will graze and water their flocks
in Holy Vestaís sacred precinct.í

Pava watched from the Sun Godís mountain
last spring, during the great storm.
Now he makes strange prophecies.
ĎGrass will grow in the Forum.
Barbarians will dismember Rome
for scraps, to build their piecemeal altars.í

He canít predict when this will happen.
Besides, it makes no difference.
The future will pass us by.
Thereís nothing left to steal here.
Mountains, and graves with terse inscriptions;
you canít take one without the other.

We had a good olive crop this year.
Iíve bought some Rhodian wine
and two Phoenician goblets.
Avle will often visit,
and we sit talking about old times.
Two white-headed ancients together.

Gods or no gods. It canít be long now
before this stone is pushed back
to return me to her side.
And that will be the end of
Love, loneliness, philosophising,
and trite questions on the fate of Rome.