The Flood (a Prose Poem)

And then the rains came. Florence wept, floated above herself, hitched to Dante’s star. Paradiso: We knew the end of the story, only the journey there – out of the dark wood, into the dark Arno River, and out again along the walls of Santa Croce Basilica – roiled as a mystery. Giotto covered his frescoes with sackcloth and ashes. Michelangelo sculpted a drain in his tomb propping up the right nave. All was not lost, but much had been stained. Twenty years later we touched the water line and sighed. When I saw it, in 1986, with a Baedeker in hand, à la A Room With a View – or at least a Frommer's Europe on $25 a Day – I shuddered for what had been saved. Yes, we do know the end of the story. But nature is no respecter of the arts. We exited under Dante’s towering bronze statue. Hawked-nosed in extremis, peering imperiously down on the mere mortals who scooted out of the basilica, Dante marked our comings and goings in terza rima, with nostrils flared. That night we wrapped a queue around the narrow street that held our little room, eager for the elbow-to-elbow, table-to-table dining of a highly praised trattoria. Pasta al fresco would have ended our pangs, but the doors stayed stubbornly shut. Soldier on, soldier on, as we shifted from foot to foot, restless, hungry, wondering, How long? At last inside, we knew the answer: a flood of time. And when we befriended our table mate, a suave, dark, handsome young Italian, he risked his English between bites. He dined alone, dry, fulfilled – by chance or choice? The Uffizi Gallery lay soaked through and through in 1966, the precious art collection contaminated by the rushing waters. Floating atop the waves like history’s precious cargo, paintings by Michelangelo and Raphael survived, buoyed by Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. As she steps off the delicate half-shell onto shore, rain drops still pelt the windows and roof. Beauty overcomes every natural disaster; it beckons only the best of creation, the best of human artifice, the dwelling place in which we pass our days clinging to the raft of meaning, forever baptized by the untamed currents of the Arno, flowing blindly on.

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