The Pines of Rome


As ghosts of old legionaries, of the upright
farmers of that unbelievable republic,
the pines entail their roots among the rubble
of baroque and modern Rome.

Out by the catacombs they essay a contradiction,
clattering their chariot-blade branches to deny
the Christian peace, the tourist’s easy frisson,
a long transfiguration.

Look away from Agnes and the bird-blind martyrs,
the sheep of God’s amnesia, the holy city
never built, to the last flag of paganism
flying in mosaic.

Then say the pines, though we are Papal like the chill
water of the aqueducts, refreshment from a state
divinity, we know that when they tombed the martyrs
they ambushed them with joy.

Rome is all in bad taste and we are no exception
is their motto. Small wonder that Respighi, ‘the last Roman’,
adds recorded nightingales to his score The Pines
of the Janiculum.

And the scent of pines as we dine at night
among the tethered goats and the Egyptian waiters
is a promise that everything stays forever foreign
which settles down in Rome.

Therefore I nominate a Roman pine to
stand above my slab, and order a mosaic
of something small and scaly to represent
my soul on its last journey.

from Collected Poems Vol 2, 1984-1999 (Oxford University Press, 1999), © Peter Porter 1999, used by permission of the Estate of the author.

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