Stephen Spencer

Beautiful Regret

Outside the bar in Sorrento,
We could hear the two-man band singing American pop in Italian
To the chords of an electric piano and the beat of a drum machine.

"Let's find the beach," she said.

She heard the lapping waves at the end of the footpaths,
Where wood boats, blue, yellow, and red,
Resting on pebbles, waited for the high tide
To set them tugging at the lines
Until fishermen released them
Into the liquid azure of the Mediterranean.

"It's dark," I said, "and these cliffs are high."

Just two days before, in Florence,
With the sky draping il Duomo,
We peered from beneath a red umbrella on
Hercules, David, and Neptune,
White stones chipped to art by the passion of sculptors.
We watched the revelers in the Piazza della Repubblica,
around the corner from the Gates of Paradise,
Into the small hours of the first day of the millennium.

"It’s late. We should go back to the hotel with the others," I said.

Dante had his Beatrice, Boticelli his Venus.
Giotto must have taken his to the top of the tower
To view the red tile blanket over Florentine life
In the dusky light before the morning
When the first Medici climbed the four hundred steps to
Gaze down on the Palazzo Vecchio.

I should have followed her to the sea.

Sunday Night in the Mountains

Anna Laura sang her favorite song every Sunday.
"I'm gonna take a trip in the good ole gospel ship,
I'm goin' far beyond the sky."
Crowded to the walls in the church between the mountain and creek,
Folks in Sunday overalls sang down the almighty power of God.

"If you're ashamed of me, you have no cause to be,
For with Him I am an heir."
Women danced in the aisles,
Heads jerked back and forth,
Hairpins and shoes flew,
Children hid beneath pews on the sawdust floor
To escape flailing arms.

"If too much fault you find, you'll surely be left behind,
While I go sailing through the air."
A wayward teen ran to the altar to be saved
From eternal damnation in Hell.
The week before he had let in a pig
During Sunday night testimony service.

"I'm gonna shout and sing, until all the heavens ring,
While I'm bidding this world goodbye."
The music drifted up the holler to the tops of the ridges
Proclaiming the word to raccoons and rattlesnakes.

Stephen Spencer has served as Chair of the English Department at the University of Southern Indiana since 2008. Before that, he taught English at Wilmington College for eighteen years. He has taught and published in the areas of American studies, ethnic literature, and global studies. His creative work has been published in the Aurorean, Estuary, Journal of Kentucky Studies, Tipton Poetry Journal, and Coal: A Poetry Anthology. His work recently has centered on travel.



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