Via Del Corso, Rome, March 2020.
The boutiques had been closed by decree, even
Calvin Klein Underwear and Brooks Brothers.
The only pedestrians were the Pope,
in his white robes, and his bodyguard,
in bulging suits – on a pilgrimage
to the ancient church of San Marcello
set back from the street. Beneath a crucifix,
used to assuage a 15th century plague,
Pope Francis prayed to God to stop the virus.
The street, in Roman times, was Via Lata –
Broad Way – and ran through the Field of Mars
towards the Adriatic. At Mardi Gras,
in the Renaissance, the Ghetto was emptied
and the Jews paraded along the street
so that the Christians could mock and scorn.
Italy’s churches had been closed by decree –
except in the north where some were being used
as temporary morgues, from which corpses
were taken, for cremation, day and night,
by slow convoys of army lorries.
Like riderless horses around a race track,
history repeats and repeats, and God,
who was thought to be dead, may merely be deaf.