When the Barocco

August Kleinzahler

When the Barocco
came over the hill with its cerulean vaults and golden exhortations
Otto in the tower took leave of his fleisch,
attending to the rumble in the near beyond.

Up the staircase of the Dolomites
and along the length of the turquoise river,
streaming in channels of differing hue,
it bounded like a beach ball across the great passes,

the summer pastures,
flattening all that came before it,
down the slopes,
through woodland and paddock,

coming to rest
but a furlong from the thorned hedge
of Otto and his forbears’ village,
and there, sweating dew,

matted with pine needles, grape mash,
insects, rodents, all manner of grasses,
like a vast, lopsided globe,
opalescent, trembling,

a planet unto itself,
very like a planet, there it sat,
a colossus, a visitation,
blocking what remained of the afternoon light

and emitting a kind of tuneful bleating,
two parts piccolo, one, perhaps, trombone.
A most remarkable phenomenon to behold.
The villagers trembled from behind mud walls.

Otto thence convened the Elders.
The alphorn was taken up and blown,
first a necklace of quarter notes, then one long,
and from the forests all around,

like fleas off a hound,
came the Woodwoses from their rustic nests,
a swarm of hairy Calibans,
waving pointed sticks,

chisels, flints, hatchets and cudgels,
and fell upon it,
poking and flailing. You’d have thought
it was just a big piñata.

While from inside came an ominous strange music:
first, a silvery harmonic fuzz,
then some spectral pedal tones
that suggested the tolling of bells,

then an agitated chromaticism, then . . .
then . . . o, dear, then . . . . . .
Like lava from deep in a seething volcano
out burst a geyser of foam,

a foam of stucco and plaster,
covering butcher-yard and meadow, orchard and cow path,
pigs at their acorns,
hares, bears and Hans,

dozing behind the refectory,
churrigueresque, like whipped cream,
suddenly dripping off half-timbered houses,
the town hall and chapel,

their corpses stacked high like cordwood
dead Styrians and Savoyards,
and that doyen among rivers, the Enns,
for no good reason o’erflowing its banks,

and Otto, Otto the pious, spellbound:
ovals, porticos, diagonals, whorls,
staircases, credenzas, putti galore.
Wine ran like squirrels in the forest.

And down from the sky above
fell ribands of damask, of silk, then a fine rain,
more a mist,
coloured purple in patches, or ochre, indigo or gold,

inlaying plain gardens with mother-of-pearl.
Pageants sprouted like mushrooms.
Trompe l’oeil windows opened room upon room,
and in the trees passacaglias

of birdsong. Not a birch
nor gable left unfestooned, the valley
awash in high colour
and upon itself enfolding, trebly enfolding,

until what had been there, there,
and there, earthbound, fixed in repose,
all in now concert reaching heavenward
moved.