(Giu Vicente/Unsplash)

                        If style can teach us how to know the world,
                then this is surely it—in overabundance.
       We stroll the grounds at our leisure, as the Cardinal
in the middle sixteenth century did, ruminating on
a way to seize the Papal throne. We stare at stone
       statues, the too many fountains, whose hidden channels
                snake behind facades, spewing an elaborate dance
                       of waters falling willy-nilly, wild, unfurled.

                        Ippolito, second son of his infamous father,
                Alfonso (of Ferrara—Browning drew him well),
       destined by birth for the Church—appointed archbishop,
astonishingly, at the age of ten and cardinal at thirty,
quickly seized jurisdiction of Hadrian’s villa, thirsty
       for the view, and immediately set up his shop
                of elaborate grottos, arcades, terraces—a swell
                        in landscape hardly ever seen anywhere

                        before. When he died, all the villa’s show
                was returned to the estate; it’s been maintained to
       date. And so the old water organs still grind out
their daily tunes, the Neptune and the Oval fountains
fall and fill. And as we roam around, trying to contain
       our sense of worshipful awe, wondering just what
                it must have been like—and what we would do
                        with such a place—knowing we’d never know.

Published in the February 2023 issue: View Contents

William Virgil Davis’s most recent book of poetry is Dismantlements of Silence: Poems Selected and New (2015). He has published five other books of poetry: The Bones Poems; Landscape and Journey, which won the New Criterion Poetry Prize and the Helen C. Smith Memorial Award for Poetry; Winter Light; The Dark Hours, which won the Calliope Press Chapbook Prize; One Way to Reconstruct the Scene, which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. His poems have appeared in major periodicals including Agenda, the Atlantic Monthly, the Gettysburg Review, the Georgia Review, the Harvard Review, the Hopkins Review, the Hudson Review, the Nation, the Malahat Review, the New Criterion, PN Review, Poetry, Raritan, the Sewanee Review, Southwest Review, the Southern Review, and TriQuarterly, among many others.

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