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.