In high-school Latin, I first read Augustine and wary
could not, even threatened by grades, be made to care
for his florid rhetoric or thieving of pears.
Uphill I trudge from the Antonine baths Augustine
must have known. The basement remains where puddles
reflect fallen columns, their leafy capitals upside down.
A corner maquette under glass and condensation shows
to scale the original multistoried affair, roofed, planted,
ageless. I steal tesserae. Traffic slows,
trips over wrecked mosaic. Stone chips mimicked soft
patterned carpets, camel saddle blankets, slate against
those brilliant tent reds, the nomads’ portable craft
then grouted indoors, exclusive once it was called art.
Unpaid workers fashioned pieces, spread them—curved
dolphins, vipers, tridents—to fit trays and to cart
each puzzle, room by echoing room. They knew the work would
last. I admire what I can, aware no slave would have cared for
just another foreigner who occupied a place because she could.
Human history’s not far gone. Disposable cameras, escorts shown
to best effect near the tepidarium, an old bishop whose tolle et lege
still shapes the warp of the West. So many pieces set in stone.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.