THE POMPEIIAN COUPLE
Two men are carrying a mattress
in the emergency lane of the 5 freeway.
The pale yellow light of a car’s
flashing blinkers catching them
in a bas-relief, faces upturned
arms around the bulky mattress
like Greek warriors embedded
on a vase, black and red-orange,
their arms stiffly raised,
Agamemnon and Odysseus
bringing a consolation prize
to Achilles, hoping its sagging pleasures
will sate his brooding need
to be attended to as if he were a god.
The woman in my passenger seat
has fallen asleep, her small lips
not curved in smile, her chin
low on her chest. It was our first date
and all of the walking through the gallery
of artifacts from Pompeii has worn her out.
I bought her a portrait
of a Pompeiian couple which had touched her,
a woman and her husband, holding pen and book
and gazing directly at the viewer
from two thousand years.
It had been found, a fresco
on the wall of a home buried
in volcanic ash. They seemed so content,
so sedate, that thin sense of longing
in their eyes not for a life they didn’t have
but for the moment they could stop posing
and turn again to each other.
The woman beside me sleeps
and dreams, no doubt, of a villa
in a Neapolitan port suburb,
children’s voices echoing against
the walls painted with gardens
and stiffly posed birds.
Somewhere in her dream is a husband
who doesn’t look like me.
I pass the men carrying the mattress
and take the woman back to her home,
knowing there are some burdens
whose ends I will never understand.
—from Rattle #13, Summer 2000
Mark C. Bruce: “I work as an attorney with the public defender in Orange County. In the spare corners of my day—usually at lunch, waiting for a case to be called, in the quiet moments and after work when the office is deserted—he works on poems.”