John Philip Drury: “Beggars in Venice”



(March 1994)


They hunch on the rain-scooped steps of humped bridges:
a woman and her swaddled infant, wrapped
in the same shawl. The crowd I follow surges
up the slick steps, where yesterday I slipped

but caught myself. Today it seems bad luck
to hurry by, when all the currency
is nearly worthless, worn Lire notes that stick
to my stuffed wallet and thin coins I try

to pick out: which is the least unvaluable?
One man is playing an accordion.
Another, leaning on a wall, can smell
cornetti cooking in a bakery’s oven.

Back in the days of non-stop carnival,
beggars whose names were in the Golden Book
guarded these bridges, dressed as if for a ball:
ruined aristocrats in tattered silk.

Now, an old woman huddles like the one
Bellini painted: bent over while sitting
and weeping for her executed son,
her face like wrinkled parchment, disintegrating

as if from rain, or fire, or time. But the day
blossoms with light. I drop a flimsy bill
around her from the back, so she won’t see,
and, if she mutters something, I can’t tell.



John Philip Drury is the author of five full-length poetry collections, most recently Sea Level Rising (Able Muse Press, 2015) and The Teller’s Cage: Poems and Imaginary Movies (forthcoming from Able Muse Press in Fall 2023). After 37 years of teaching at the University of Cincinnati, he is now an emeritus professor.

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