A Hot Day In Agrigento

Temples look like discarded alphabets.   
We loved lying in their shadows lazily   
deciphering and resting and laying bets

on what they really were for. Easily   
caught by fantasy, we no longer cared
why they were there, just that they were. Happy

to sit down and drink the water we shared   
(having lugged our plastic bottle, and hats,   
and camera, through the human dung bared

right there in the sun—where else could you get   
relief with no toilets?) we guzzled it down
and splashed it on our arms, hands, legs, and necks.

A girl in dirty, expensive clothes found   
us with the bottle and asked us for some.
I said no. As she left, a gagging smell wound

its way out from the bottle’s damp lung.
I’ve often been asked to give what I’ve saved,   
but under the temple I said no, numbed

against the girl, like one of those bridesmaids   
who kept her oil in the Bible story
and was safe for the night. I’d hated those maids

until I became one in my story,
the shape of the character I’d searched for   
surprising me as the temples did: See

how golden but pocked they’ve become, nor   
are they quite decipherable anymore,   
at least to those who forget what they’re for,

which is worship, the greed of prayer.
“So that’s who you are,” my friend said. “Thirsty?”   
With him I drank, not quite the maid in the story,

but in her shadow, like letters at rest   
in new words on a palimpsest.

Molly Peacock, “A Hot Day in Agriento” from Cornucopia: New and Selected Poems 1975-2002. Copyright © 2002 by Molly Peacock. Reprinted with the 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: Cornucopia: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 2002)
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