At Herculaneum

Ange Mlinko

Winter 2019

We were, you might say, dangling over the buried city.
If this villa had a cellar, its floor would be the ceiling
—tap it—to another, in shallow strata, but irreality
in this case went all the way down, then back up, reeling
(so to speak) in the accoutrements of a lost beau monde.
Who was I there? A guest, a voyeur, a vagabond.

The sitting part of the sitting room dominated
by two grand pianos was—marginal. Like black mirrors,
their lids pooled the light. Was it here the walls were red?
The other parlor was powder blue, a style in arrears
to a dynasty gone to dust. Each room staged a dialogue
between colors with a touch of fop, a wink of rogue:

a lilac wall by raisin daybed; saffron upholstery
with sapphire mural, or celadon via mauve.
A Baccarat chandelier bestowed a perpetual curtsy.
The dinner service patterned after Romanov,
the chairs a gift from the last queen of Italy . . .
You see why I say it had the air of irreality.

Ange Mlinko teaches at the University of Florida. Her most recent poetry collection is Distant Mandate.

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