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Torcello

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Offshore, the Apocalypse
stays contained
to one island and its church.

Venice's ruler's out wedding
himself to the ocean

while I'm ankle deep
in the Adriatic,
eyes raised to a book

unencumbered by words: A Bible
that reads from East to West. Guidebooks
want only

to see it as ceiling—the Basilica
San Marco,

where Christ's hands open on wounds
embedded with rubies, and priests

hold back the sea with brooms.
I'm taking on incense,

bowing at altars dragged out
of Constantinople,
sloshing across marble
sacked from Jerusalem.

Offshore, the sea's a bride bought
with a fist full of diamonds
the Doge throws into the deep—

a sign of his true and perpetual dominion.

Then why does walking into this church
mean stepping into the ocean?
The sea is a dog—
Priests throw in bones just to placate it.

The year's nearly 2000,
but the millennium already hit once

on the island Torcello,
a kind of plague the Venetians contained.
999 years,

and the dead still crawl from dirt
towards their radiant bodies,
they still gather up

missing limbs: arms, legs, hands
sharks and beasts keep regurgitating.

We do what we know—
But Christ never wanted to manage
resurrections in Venice.

Underdressed in the flesh
from dead civilizations,
he moves among us in Byzantine skin.

I'm getting close to this God
worshiped only by tourists.

He picks at the wounds
on his crucified body, the injury
scabbed over with jewels.

Source: Poetry

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This poem originally appeared in the October 2001 issue of Poetry magazine

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Torcello

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