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Ostia Antica

Down the Decumanus Maximus
            till the rutted cobbles give way,
just as so many lives have gone before this,
            past the stubs of the insulae,

while each Airbus at Fiumicino
           heaves itself aloft
over the beach umbrellas in row on row
          where the Tyrrhenian Sea laps, soft;

and I, too, have felt Rome drop astern
          of that imperative bound west,
have settled back and been home by afternoon.
          But this time I smell the dust

and heat as I walk an open field
          to Room 16, Trench 3, Layer 3
where he works, my tousle-headed man-child,
         sifting broken plaster and tesserae

to recover a hippocamp in the sun,
          a taurocamp, a pardalocamp in monochrome,
or six bulked-up charioteers from the age of Constantine,
          each with a trophy-cylinder and a name:

for they, too, had dreams of motion and flight,
         their cool vaults of pine-green and ocher
just fragments, rubbed to color with a little spit
         in the province of the dumpy level and weak mortar,

where the Tiber still wanders toward the sea,
         now several kilometers distant;
and when I am judged, as I will be,
         whatever I achieved or intended,

at the end of my own days,
         may it be by one as tender and meticulous,
with his sharp trowel and soft brushes,
         in faded sweat-stained clothes.

This article originally ran in the August 18, 2011, issue of the magazine.