The Bellini in San Giovanni Crisostomo

R.F. Langley

It’s curfew, and I do my turn
around the valley, settling down
outposts of mine, the little, far-
flung castles, Roche this and Rocca
that. And ‘Check,’ I say, and ‘Split,’ and
‘Cover up my fire.’ I rouse my
sentinels under relict clouds,
happy with some altostratus
and a roll of rosy billows
processing off the peaks. I start
the spleenwort by the door, argue
small slips and petals which still snap
with love or hate although it is
so dark and late. I stipulate
which bits matter. White chips go in
grey spaces. But gradually,
the old man’s face becomes more than
it was. His profile is on the
sky above the mountains. Nor does
he look at me, but only at
his book. He veils his eye and sucks
his lip, as he considers what
is read. And so it starts to move.
The castles and the clouds and the
asplenium which I still make
out, splayed on the rock, are taking
their places in his head. He has
a mind for them. Together with
his library, his fig tree, the
ridge he sits on, the cinquefoil, the
other weeds in cracks, here he comes,
with screes and summits and summer
pastures in the gloaming at his
back. He edges forwards under
the perspective of the foreground
arch, between the pair of flanking
saints who are inside already,
standing on the marble floor. Each
thing he brings is sharp as a stone
which I discover as I shake
my shoe, and tip it out to hear
it click and patter to a stop.
There is no need to badger at
the garrison, trooping home for
supper. Recall your champions.
Inform the tower, the gable,
silk on a mitre, the paper
label tacked on the parapet,
that they can have one moment more
to be expensive. The moon picks
at the corner of the page. I
turn myself around to thank him,
the old man, the moon, Bellini,
hoping the next words he reads will
mention me, as someone waiting
in the nave, at twilight, here in
line fifty seven, arrested
by green and rose. By rose and brown.