THE QUESTION (© Words by Paul F. Cowlan)

Suspended in light he paddles blindly,
a numbed pendulum laced with pain.
Since the squeal of the tackle
the sun has leaned in with a dry voice.
Cramps wring his joints, and his lungs yelp
like a hanged dog he once saw
clubbed to sweetness somewhere on the Silk Road.

No so gnente!

Noon’s jowl twitches in a web of ice,
folding syllables until the sense is hidden.
Hitched in bright motes and street-cries,
meshed prisoners sob and rustle.
He hears them, wound in on a taut thong;
the rasp of his wife’s brocade.
Her frozen cry.

Ah! El xe inosente!

Racked pupa. Mummia. Cast cocoon.
State Rooms swing under him,
their crushed floors stamped and pliable.
Clerks, captains, dupes, informers,
edgy patricians and sly merchants;
scuffing their muzzled circuits
in steel and taffeta.

Ga perso ea mente!

No whisper from the Doge, the Patriarch, the Inquisitor;
in pinioned chambers slung under the drilled beams,
riffling among quires and galleases;
walling up brick and clay with looted marble.
But under the sweating tempera is mud, raw timber;
and the marsh, breathing its foetid blessing.
The stealthy acqua alta hiss.


She is tilting down against black ripples,
mouthing, as the sky drones out of shape.
Then boards lurch up to bruise his knees,
a sluice of water shatters,
and he snatches in a crumpled breath
before the ratchetting unfolds him
and again his heels march weightlessly.

Soccombenolo pian pianin.

Hours clog in the rusted grates.
Luminous as bleached homespun
soused and tightly swaddled,
the sun gags mouth and nostrils.
Quills poise in susurrous conference;
but remain unsatisfied.
His name barks up at him.

Signori! O Signori! Ma cossa fè?