Sport 36: Winter 2008
Storm-tossed, shipwrecked, even at Death's door,
so you seem, Manlius, and say indeed you are,
begging for a poem in words that might console
a sleepless man abandoned by Venus and the Muse.
Your letter comes, a seal of friendship and trust,
and were I not myself shipwrecked, storm-tossed,
you would have from me all that the Muse and Venus
(those twins whose careless clients once we were
in the green season of youth) chose to bestow.
But with my brother's death, believe me friend,
died poetry also and the pursuit of love,
laughter, and the high hopes of my clan.
So when you ask me why I live alone
here in Verona, where good folk go to bed
early and mostly alone, and keep for company
only my box of books, I tell you truly
that grief has robbed me of the gift of giving
and taking pleasure like a robust Roman.
Yes Rome is 'home', but when the soul is homeless
one must wander with it, even at the expense of friends
And yet, and yet… How will silence serve
except to hide in the tomb's webby darkness
the name of Manlius and the good he did me,
which you, my Muse, may if you choose record
for eyes as yet unseeing, ears unborn.
My struggle with Venus is well-known to you.
How brutally she forced me into the fires
of insane love my sweat-stained verses tell,
but not how, when the torture was extreme,
my friend brought me relief. He it was
offered a house where we, as on a stage,
could play our parts, she my radiant goddess,
her sandal on the threshold of my dream
as famous Laodamia came to her lover
the snow-white dove, symbol of unbridled passion,
while Cupid hovered in his saffron cape.
So if she must have other lovers, Muse,
let me remember Juno's tolerance
of wandering Jove, and let me not forget
she came to me, not from a father's hand,
but from a husband's bed on a brilliant night
of stars and comets. And if the nights that were mine
are marked in her diary with a secret sign
let that suffice.
To you, Manlius, I offer
these lines, the best a stricken friend could make.
May you be happy, and may your house prosper—
but before even you, dear friend, may she be blessed
whose life alone shines light upon my page.
Catullus receives the ONZ
The child who climbed your trees for the greater insult
of pissing from a height, and set your hedges on fire;
the adolescent masturbator who aspired to
fornicate with your daughters; and lastly the youth
who disdained your uniform and dishonoured your flag—
all three are present, Caesar, under these laurels
that bring me at last a welcome guest to your table.
It's as well that you should know I embrace them all,
and will. Nothing they did was ever done
to earn your high regard. Nor ever shall be.