Calle dei Morti

by Marie Marshall

There is one more reveler in the masquerade,
one more domino and high-crowned tricorn,
if you can count the carnival-goers heartbeat by heartbeat;
we whisper of the one who measures by silent paces
the Calle dei Morti, those few, narrow metres
from the bridge un, , tre, along this little ravine
quatro, zsinque, sie, to the Calle Cornier and back.
Here things are sombre, quiet, moonless, barely touched,
a shaft for rare stars to mock from unshuttered windows,
neglected washing to become shreds of clouds, shrouds
shaken by forgotten hands, numb, damnable breezes,
after-breath of words spoken by a lonely bell from San Stae,
by the lick of water on worn, greened brickwork,
by the lumber of wood and bump of boats moored carelessly,
by the late, late, oar-stroked clock-rhythm of a bisonno;
and still the swirl of a cloak, the relentless slow-march
sete, oto, nóve, as though carrying the world upon his shoulders,
or the dead of a thousand years in a single, child-size coffin,
steadying himself by placing sole after sole on the flagstones,
pausing only when there is laughter in the Campo San Cassiano,
fading from sight, melding with the dark of an old doorway
when homeward, hesitant shoe-taps skitter – faster,
faster at some middle-moment without knowing why.
At times of mute shadow, of the hollowed, callous city,
calling by slight hands, by sleight-handed, gloved gestures,
by finger-counts in missed seconds, shapes, echoes, half-echoes,
this nook runs from nowhere to somewhere else,
and the steps continue diéxe, ondexe, dódexe, to the end
and then, as though there is neither left nor right in the world,
back again, again, again, footfall after dark footfall.