Please Touch

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Meredith McCann

Please Touch


      A Mars-red thundercloud over Via del Corso
                 Drove me indoors,
      To admire a wine-dark jar, a marble torso,
      A Socrates, a centaur—spoils of wars—
      Baroquely sensual nymphs with ivied hands,
      And the city’s emblem, faked Etruscan bronze,
      The mother-wolf. Among the seven hills,
      This one, the Capitoline, still stands,
      Remembering the touch of festal fronds,
      The chariots, the deaths displayed for thrills.

      I made the tiring climb, had my purse checked,
                 And crossed the hall,
      Not knowing this museum held the wrecked,
      Unsettling beauty of the Dying Gaul,
      A thing imperial pity set in stone.
      I turned a corner and my face felt hot.
      He should have been protected by a cloak—
      The work of women’s hands would take that groan
      He holds back with bared teeth, and we would not
      See helpless what a sword or spearpoint broke.

      And yet I watched him while the sun’s last rays
                 Rose like a tide,
      Drowning his legs in a kind of numbing blaze,
      Climbing the dried-out keel of his side,
      Until a tour guide, yelling and cajoling,
      Led in the laughing blind, who walked assured,
      So sensitive to pressures from the dark;
      And since a touch would be the most consoling
      Recompense, their gloved hands inferred
      The statue’s shape. I heard one girl remark,

      “Bellissimo!” So critically pleased!
                 Each taking her share,
      Precise as typists, inch by inch they teased
      Out details—staticky ends of frightening hair,
      The twisted torc (the only thing he wore),
      His foot’s creased sole, his arm’s exhausted thrumming,
      His focused look, his shallow-seeming wound.
      The suffering they touched they lightly bore,
      As cool as he was before what was coming.
      I shuddered. I was forcibly attuned,

      As though someone were mugged before my eyes,
                 And in my mind
      Rhymes like lost balloons began to rise . . .
      But nothing could be easily defined.
      Then evening lights came on, a hazy crown
      On that which I could not touch and they not see,
      And tipped off by those brittle chandeliers,
      The tour guide asked her group to wind things down.
      Their guide dog raised his head reluctantly
      And left that soldier dying through the years.