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Cyrus Cassells

Cyrus Cassells

Cyrus Cassells is the author of five acclaimed books of poetry: The Mad Actor, Soul Make a Path Through Shouting, Beautiful Signor, More Than Peace and Cypresses and The Crossed-Out Swastika. His sixth book, The Gospel according to Wild Indigo: New & Selected Poems, is forthcoming. Among his honors are a Lannan Literary Award, a William Carlos Williams Award and a Lambda Literary Award.


There's an immense veil of dust remaining
from a retinue of just-passed horses.
Near rain-sullied tombs,
brindled and voracious goats,
with their sly animus
of I still, I still, I still,
forage in the wayside grasses—
Amid a breeze-swayed mix
of Queen Anne's lace and fragrant fennel,
a pale, agile mongrel appears,
beneath the lowering sun,
and follows me
on the hoof-marked path, an affable
opposite of Cerberus,
lightening my impromptu odyssey
through the poppy-lit necropolis.

In this hour of dissipating,
late spring light, at the Etruscan ruins
called Banditaccia—
mosaic, puzzle, juggernaut, queen
having spied the official site's
locked, taciturn gate, I'm happy to find,
as I amble in Cerveteri's
cost-free, adjacent countryside,
tomb after empty tomb:
most coal-dark or genesis-dark,
some rank with bullying weeds
or brackish water—
Relentlessly, over centuries,
sagacious tomb raiders,
rogue-hearted plunderers have ransacked
the consecrated houses of the dead,
absconding with the earnest mourner's
devotional gold and bolstering trinkets,
little bronze ships of death
meant to ease the beloved's journey
from the wheat-bold kingdom of the campagna
to the underworld's
evening-cool, immutable ebony—

Know that we're eluding
the humdrum, the everyday,
my plucky anti-Cerberus and I.
Passing from womb
to rock-cut womb,
easy-footed yet intent, riveted—
in this subterranean silence,
I'm suddenly reminded
my mother succumbed to leukemia
during my last Italian sojourn
(there was, I swear, an imposing
volume and sweetness
to her scattered ash and bone
as I shared her with the living ocean's
teal artillery)
so truly now, I'm keener-eyed,
more acquainted
with elegy and chiaroscuro,
even able to surrender
something of her instilling light
and let it be subsumed,
at the sun's disappearance,
into Banditaccia's gargantuan stone
paean to the irreplaceable—

I admit: a venerating city of the dead,
designed for the living, seems
a massive courtesy, a lovingkindness,
and if, in this long-standing necropolis,
I brush against the limitless unknown
of my own mortality, my mother's
(one generation vanishing into another),
I'm also in sundown dialogue with you,
distant Etruscans—you who signal
to our deracinated age
in forlorn shards and intriguing frescoes,
you whose language is revoked, dismasted—
Were your lives like chalk equations
erased from a schoolroom blackboard?
Or do you truly dwell
in the jeweled realms of the perpetual?

Here, where the selvage-shorn day's
leave-taking light
feels like dying,
and night's voluminous toga arrives,
we remain, as in vanished Etruria,
brash and callow, ardent and in-a-hurry,
avid for heart-granting clarity and inheriting  
mainly reticence and darkness,
though we have the sweeping beauty
of the coruscating here-and-now
for consolation, the heart-shoring
meshes of the migrant stars——

Here, where we're first mothered
and then un-mothered,
monitoring spirits of the looted tombs,
here on indomitable earth,
with its safekeeping dogs
and stone testaments,
we still seek news of you.


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