The Cast of Campagnatico

Peter Porter

Since a harebrained devil has changed the world
To scenes from a Nature Documentary,
There are those of us who will forever seek
Rational landscapes, dotted with walled cemeteries,
Unquestioned rivers of familiar fords
And an efficient bus from which adulteresses
Alight before the ascent to the neighbour village.
Not that His blocked thumb is absent: those
English families tooting along the scatty road
(Our fifteen-year-old crunching the clutch
Of the little Fiat) are outside the cemetery
Before anyone notices the just-widowed blob
At the armorial gates – the regret, the shame,
The silence – she at the gardens of death which need
A constant tending, and us hurrying
To lunch at the hydrophilic villa –
The Oldest Presence of All will be well pleased.
Not just a vignette, we reflect, this shadowless day
In Southern Tuscany, more a looking for shades
Which match the petrified intelligence of time:
One sees the small bends which history makes
In the lanes of scarcely-visited villages.
True, this one is in Dante, and that oleander-screened wall
You take for the headquarters of the carabinieri
Might be an out-station of the Piccolomini,
If only you could remember which is which
Among the towers that mark the lesions of the sky.
Siena is as far away as London: life as far away
As last night’s dream whose every promontory
Is in the present. Now, coming through the gate,
The view is a pastoral benediction for those
Who have never lived in Arcadia. Thank God,
Grace à Dieu, Gott sei Dank – we are
As international as an opera festival,
We who love Italy. We have no home
And come from nowhere, a marvellous patrimony.
Then before the laying of the table in the arbour,
The helpful barefoot girls from good schools,
The gossip and the wine, a sudden vision
Of belonging. The cats of Campagnatico,
Which are never fully-grown and have never
Been kittens, will not move for the honking motorist
But expect to be gone round. Thin and cared-for,
Fat and neglected, watchful and hardly seen awake,
Cool-haired in the sun and warm in shadow,
Embodying Nature’s own perversity,
They lie on this man-made floor, the dialectic
Of survival. O God, we cry, help us through
Your school of adaptation – between the fur of the cat
And the cement of extinction, there are only
Cypress moments lingering and the long tray of the sky.