My companions have gone up Etna today
to hike the rough black lava
on the rim of the volcano,
while I stand sun-struck in the libreria
among shelves of Italian books
and the women who sell them.
They are all aflutter,
like sparrows pecking flung seeds.
At home among the motes and tomes,
they float from mystery to romance,
then on to history. The world
is their bookshelf. They climb ladders
to reach the anterooms of paradise,
then look back, as if this communion
could save me too.
When tonight we retire to our beds,
they to sagging quilts and cold-creamed faces,
I to my tourist hotel on the cliff,
we will snore like whiskered cats
or like the rhythmic ondine waters below,
with their diadem of sand and wave.
Far from Etna’s steamy belch, we’ll dream
of books in tidy rows or lying dog-eared
on the nightstand wailing of human foibles,
our eyes star-burned in the spiraling dark.