Brodsky At The Caffé Dante

by Alfred Corn

A Village den, not far from Morton Street,
Where you’d hosted a party just the week
Before, your birthday cake a replica
Of A Part of Speech’s jacket. Practical
Joke? It wasn’t your most recent book,
Which blunt reviews had sort of trounced. But luck
’S a weathervane, and that year mine, too, had
Gone south, or sour, as I could tell you’d heard.

Strange: your large-scale forehead (the temple sported
A windswept curl Romantically borrowed
From Pushkin or Chateaubriand) was unlined,
Free of the trenches that gulags make or, exile.
Instead, it beamed a dynamic melancholy
Over our topics – none of them dire, really.
Ovid more vulnerable than Mandelshtam;
What Byron felt when he saw Dante’s tomb.

I asked if you linked the San Marco Lion
To the tenement on St. Marks Place, where Auden
Had lived for decades. Just to hear his name
Unpacked a smile… In fact, the piece of cake
They’d cut you showed the King of Cats’ brown sugar
Wing. Piston thrusts from that small figure,
Were counterparts to espressos we would drink –
Its caffeine still buzzing, I like to think.