I am in Rome, Vatican bells tolling
a windowful of God and Bernini.
My neighbor, the Pope, has died
and God overnight, has wept
black mantles over the sainted
stone age whose skirted shadows
flit through to the main cave.
I nurse a cold. It must be error
to sniffle in sight of holiness.
“Liquids,” the doctor said. He has
no cure, but since I have my choice,
I sip champagne. If I must sit
dropsical to Heaven, let me at least
be ritual to a living water.
In the crypt under the cave
the stone box in its stone row
has been marked for months now.
My neighbor knew where he was going.
I half suspect I, too, know,
and that it is nothing to sneeze at,
but am left to sneeze.
I drink my ritual Moët et Chandon
and wish (my taste being misformed
for the high authentic) I had
a California—a Korbel
or an Almaden. I like it “forward,”
as clerics of such matters say,
not schooled to greatness.
It is loud in Heaven today
and in the great stone school
my neighbor kept.
The alumni procession of saints
is forming for him. Bells
clobber the air with portents.
I sniffle and sneeze,
wad kleenex, and sip champagne,
trying to imagine what it might be
to take part in a greatness,
or even in the illusion
of something like. The experience
might deepen my character,
though I am already near
the bottom of it, among wads and butts
of what was once idea. And the last swallow
I do not like the after-taste, if that
is what I am tasting. But this is ritual.
I toast my neighbor: may he
find his glass, and may its after-taste
be all that he was schooled to.