An Apartment with a View

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.

John Ciardi, “An Apartment with a View” from For Instance. Copyright © 1979 by John Ciardi. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Source: The Collected Poems of John Ciardi (1997)
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