9/12/01, Florence

Drawing on a cigarette outside a lavanderia,

Two weeks of sweaty clothes burbling inside,

I found myself in conversation with a fellow

Washer.  Only one topic, yesterday’s news.

What I remember best of this Florentine’s

Words is that the madmen would smash a plane

Into St. Peter’s, because it is the heart

Of Christianity, and his tangible fear as

He evoked such outrage, the basilica as pure

A target as the New York towers – “gemini”

To the Italians.  He was no Catholic, “of course,”

But centuries of baptism had rubbed in and

For a moment Il Papa seemed to be a father.


Years later, I reflect how many times Rome

Has been destroyed, reduced to rubble and

Looted, and I think, lapsed Protestant

And infidel, it’s good that never happened,

As he must think now. One of a kind, let

The building be, no matter what nonsense

The Pope dribbles from his throne. Nothing’s

Permanent, but this building is different,

And we must admire the difference of things.


Back then, I told the accidental Florentine,

“Don’t worry. Those men aim at and bomb only

Centers of money and power, and even though

The Vatican has vast stores of wealth it’s all

Like saints’ bones, not to be cashed, and the church

Is merely a feather in the wind. Rome’s safe.”

Shrugging agreement, eyes lowered to the stubbed

Butts on the pavement, he sighed and returned to

The arms, legs, and body parts tumbling around.


From Irreplaceable You and Other Poems

By Karl Patten




9/12/01 Florence was written several years after that date.  At the time we had been living in the Tuscan countryside, and that day was the last of our rental.  The owner told us of the massacre and said we could stay, but we had a hotel reservation in Florence and chose to take that up.  Nobody could fly into the States at that time, and we had to stay in Florence, hardly a problem, indeed.  Also it gave us a chance to do our laundry.

Everything in this poem is simply a remembrance of that occasion.  I did chat with a Florentine out on the sidewalk, and there was only one subject.  The invention here comes in the words I say to him.  I did assure him that St. Peter’s was safe, but the remarks about the Pope and the Vatican I made up and are probably what I would have liked to say but refrained from in fear of hurting his feelings.  The last three lines are truth, though.


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