. Last Letter from Florence A recent incident recalls the fears Your letters have expressed: that seven years In this art-laden place might rob me of Whatever you once thought that you could love: The flat I rent lies halfway up a via Around a bend from Piazza Signoria. A few noons back, having as usual rushed Across the square, it came to me I’d just Ignored the David---not the first such lapse. The streets grow more unneighborly. Perhaps I’m learning how to hold myself aloof: He’s not the only man without a roof. Wasn’t he sprung five centuries ago From marble jail by Michelangelo? And still the well-known figure stands around Like youthful talent waiting to be found. I too would like to find him, but the trouble’s To tell the real one from his countless doubles. Without moving a muscle, suddenly He’s at the Palace where he used to be, But surely at the famed Piazzale too I’ve seen him stretched to get his piece of view, And isn’t that him ‘neath the little dome Where all line up and pay to find him home? It seems that everywhere one turns he looms In shops and alleys, restaurants and tombs, And lilliputian legions on display For Gullivers to hire and lead away. The True King surely rests in none of these, Though like an up-to-date Diogenes He searches through the short-lived spotlit night For that one tourist who can get him right. No day goes by that, busied with survival, I don’t snub David like some kind of rival. Sometimes I nod: (“I saw David again.” “How did he look?” “A bit the worse for rain.”) At last, my dreams betraying with a kiss, Overexposure wreaks its nemesis. Unsettled to the depths, I rise in haste To daytime fantasies where stones play chaste And legend clothes the onset of a man: As monumental, ageless Peter Pan, As the Commandant, slouching on to claim The invitation that will spoil Juan's game, As gleaming beauty, stalking through the street In search of someone he seems sure he’ll meet: The severed head, perhaps, of some old boast To bury and so lay its owner’s ghost. The sanitized imagination spins As many roles as copies---but none wins. Our David has been standing in the ring, Braving all comers, stripped down to a sling, Ready for his Goliath fate to knock Its way out of some even tougher rock. A lesser champ would have long since retired Upon the forfeit purse, deadlines expired. But David and his maker linger yet Within the timeless moment when they met, The form forever grasped within the stone, The mallet poised to make the wonder known. Now there’s one David who was beautiful! But he has never been accessible. Another that which then the sculptor brought To light as chip by chip he cleared his thought. O to revisit that first nakedness So quickly aged and wizened by the stress Of idle talk when round the burghers came To stare and weave their winding sheet of fame! In fact the work of art is never done, As days undo the dreams long nights have spun, And ever once again through endless toil True form seems lighted but for men to spoil, As if they hated that which proved them blind, Preferring blocks to Davids of the mind. Philosophy suggests we touch the real Where action springs, compelled by what we feel, As in those hands I seem to clutch a hope That some somewhere can shape where mine but grope, Or arms extend to feed or clothe or warm Those we should cherish since they share his form. And now my years in Florence near a close When we must face whatever loss now shows. Please heed the warning issued in this letter: The place has changed me---maybe for the better. And if I’ve mended any of my flaws David has been the most efficient cause. For when I came I thought I knew my ends And how to reach them. Knowledge, wealth and friends Have withered into means to what his eyes Forever gaze upon, the utmost prize. I’m bringing back less luggage than I took, Having discarded sureness book by book. I’ve only change of habits to declare, For you---and all---one gift as light as air: No effigy with form so crudely blurred A fig-leaf shame would be the lie preferred; Instead a vision just beyond my reach, An end the balance of my life may teach, Like David’s look, fixed on a distant quest, The ever-changing light that shows us best. . . Lionel Willis was born in Toronto in 1932. He has been a mosaic designer, portrait painter, watercolorist, biological illustrator, field entomologist and professor of English Literature as well as a poet. His verse has appeared in A Miscellany of Prints and Poems, The Canadian Forum, Candelabrum Poetry Magazine, Descant, Dream International Quarterly, Harp Strings Poetry Journal, Hrafnhoh, Iambs & Trochees, Light, Romantics Quarterly, The Classical Outlook, The Society of Classical Poets, The Deronda Review, The Eclectic Muse, The Fiddlehead, The Formalist, The Lyric, The Road Not Taken, Troubadour and White Wall Review, and in two books, The Dreamstone and Other Rhymes (The Plowman, 2003) and Heartscape, a Book of Bucolic Verse (EIDOLON, 2019).