In Horsegrazing Siena

In Horsegrazing Siena

In Horsegrazing Siena

Arts has moved! You can find new stories here.
A weekly poem, read by the author.
Sept. 15 1999 3:30 AM

In Horsegrazing Siena

Down the botanical garden's terraced slope
following where the path
led us among tagged specimens
assembled in neat plots
by family

and ecosystem, local plants and exotics
--even a young sequoia
from my native California--
each with its skirt of shade
underneath

gathered close in the solstice midday heat,
with sometimes a single leaf
in outline emerging from the tangled
mass of shadows cast
on the level dust,

its boundary describing the unique
silhouette peculiar
to its kind, and all the leaves above
outspread, reveling
in the common sunshine ...

we strayed into a cool alcove, lingering
where the pharmacopeia
detained us--ephedra, belladonna,
one small gray-barked tree
without a label,

a glossy red-orange globe on a long stem
smooth as a persimmon
suspended from a skinny branch
head high, a tin sign
enameled white

hanging on a silver chain beside it
with prim black lettering:
VELENO    NON TOCCARE.
Further on, where the slope
flattens out

and widens as the field sweeps gently down
to meet the towering
medieval wall--a sprawling acre
of tall grass and wildflowers,
thistles, vines,

undifferentiated pagan weeds
promiscuously nestled
against the fortification's brickwork,
the whole expanse of ground
let run wild

as if the circuit of the city wall
were a permeable membrane
admitting the wilderness inside,
wild and tame inter-
penetrating,

this city's trust in its identity
secure enough to allow
its opposite a place and share.
Just so, the visitor
who climbs slowly

back from the outskirts along narrow lanes
of sun-warmed brick emerging
into Il Campo senses the spreading
plaza's vast expanse
widen around him

the way a mountain meadow greets a hiker
in the wilderness who follows
the thin stripe of a trail through forest
shadows when suddenly
a clearing opens

and gathers him into the broad embrace
of high altitude
cerulean. But ah, Siena,
you are luckiest in the root
and stem whence

your hospitality flowers: each and all
your children trust that within
the encircling shelter of your wall
they will always have a place
at the table, a bed.