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Where part of the back wall of the scena

of the Greco-Roman amphitheatre

has collapsed, we can see the sun setting

on Etna, its smoke drifting like a veil

over the sea. The town’s orchestra –

of mandolins, lutes, guitars, double bass –

with its plangent, sentimental, heart-

rending timbre plays the prelude to act one

of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata’…


We saw the opera at the Bolshoi –

with its gilt chairs and the Romanov box

with the hammer and the sickle above –

the month Vladimir Putin was first crowned.

When we left the theatre in the soft dusk

of May there was a babushka begging.

In the Lubyanka metro station,

a drunken man rolled down the escalator…


As Venus appears in the south east,

the orchestra plays encores – ‘Volare’,

‘Torna a Surriento’, ‘Ritorna-me’.

The audience, mostly local, largely

female, sways and hums, secure, for that moment,

in its campanilismo, thinking of amore


Small boats are approaching, in the thickening

dark, from North Africa and the Levant,

chartered by men – vessels overladen with

women and children, craft whose landfall, whose

free fall will set tolling each and every

bell in the frantic campanile.



© Copyright David Selzer
2 Responses
  • Howard Gardener
    September 29, 2014

    I love the last stanza of this poem, David. It is amost the ‘profane’ after the ‘sacred’ of the preceding three stanzas. Very evocative, especially to somebody (i.e. me) who visited Sicily at an age when I was far too young to appreciate what was before me and now relies on imagination to cement those fleeting impressions.

  • John Huddart
    September 29, 2014

    In this delightful tour of Europe and European civilization and culture, the music plays almost throughout – charged with love, dreams and tragedy. Darker clouds circulate, volcanic, revolutionary, and the toll of refugees whose flight from the east – the thickening dark of the Levant in our time – quite properly sets all the bells ringing. Cinematic and charged. Marvelous.

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