sibyl_burne-jones
APPROACHING CUMAE
by Anthony DiMatteo

Slipping out though forbidden,
past the barbed wire of the German
villa, the rusted gate, down a street
of no path, a lone car rushing
past, flat and dark on all sides,
I stumble ahead towards some
dream I can never visit but there it is,
rising ahead, fenced off, Neolithic,
guarded by yaping Mafioso
dogs prowling private domains.

Beyond the meadow of myriad graves,
olive trees twist in the black where
the hewn rocks of the temple rise.
The smell of the sea stirs
the giddy air. I have arrived,
phone booths, an abandoned parcel,
Birra Peroni bottles, the dogs still
barking as if to ward off
an abomination from the ground.

I am one soul before the sacred way,
heart and mind swelling with fear,
no words to say, exposed but not
pious, nothing to bring to these
chiseled stones and stairwell down.
I cower in my shallowness,
hide in a pool of disbelief.
What was once threshold to the dead
darkens now only with a night
like any other, quarter moon
rising over the sleeping bay at Cumae.

The next day, the official visit,
the drone of guides in different
languages, the nervous polizia
fingering his machine gun
as I look away from the carefully
aligned sun behind the temple.
I wait for the crowd to thin
and weep to myself a little,
the mystery lost, the emptiness
I brought last night to this
hole of the infinite sealed off
forever from modern eyes.

Even so, I am a bit different now,
when common stars proceed
and each sunset brings
an intimate chill
out of an ancient silence
only the living can feel.

IMAGE: “The Cumaean Sibyl” (detail) by Edward Burne-Jones (1877). The Cumaean Sibyl was the priestess presiding over the Apollonian oracle at Cumae, a Greek colony located near Naples, Italy.

dimatteo at tetons

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anthony DiMatteo‘s recent work has appeared in College Literature, The Cortland Review, Smartish Pace, Tar River Poetry, and Waccamaw. A new book Beautiful Problems: Poems is out from David Robert Books. He often writes on how mythology and politics sleep with each other, with wilderness exceeding the human will to sovereignty (as in his photo where havoc has been wrought upon his hair by the winds off the Tetons). His translation of Shakespeare’s allegorical guide to myth, Natale Conti’s Mythologies: A Select Translation, was publishedby Garland Press. Feel free to leave a trace at his e-tent http://anthonydimatteo.wordpress.com/about/