Barbara Maloutas

 

Artifact of Pompeii

Even if there are three sins, there still remains the story. In the story of sin, there is 

nothing of Luigi but Luigi. Ah, Luigi—by himself, we approach him jumping right in. 

Our using ah before Luigi like a mother would. Not diminutive ah—Luigi denotes 

exactly this—Vesuvius in reverse. Yet there is always somewhere for hope—a big

solution for a big problem. So the first sin translates into words like—everything is a 

problem. All of it. Even now, even though there is such a thing as point of view 

through a keyhole and a window. The residents hoped for an opportunity in a window

or on a stair. We find them in solid stone, on a stair. It was the ultimate problem in 79.

Such a pity in reality. That’s aught.

~

not that
earth dissolves
into water
water into steam
yet
when there is no air
there is no fire
4:46

~

There are two things impossible to control. There is sin. And there is a volcano, just

as there is no way in dreaming to say no. What woman’s logic is this is most

frequently asked. Too tender and exposing but both original and woman’s. Ah

without a name denotes just that, leads us to think ha and that there is the story. Right

along side it, there is wording. And wonderment. It is in hoping that we name and in

ah that we hold on to naming and everything we don’t know. Lucky, when anything

worthwhile follows, and thus denoting time. As in this case, not as we expect,

nonetheless. Wonderful running these together.

~

she
breaks off
a shaft
Au Bon Pain
and asks really asks
is this really grain
11:6

~

At this rate we will forget the story. Or the story will us. And what is the third sin but

doing nothing is better. If the question is a matter of quality, so we are left with 

something if we do. Story and wording? We conclude faithfully our story. Hope is the 

wording, not even in is necessary. Love is a domain of artifacts. It seems and hard to 

take. Much harder to put down words. His grizzly face after all. And hollowed heel 

shoe. Ah, we’ve given the punch line, a way of closing down, but we won’t. It is a 

hope there is, in not ending after all. 

~

gardeners report
the graft belongs
to the tree
but doesn’t
share tree thoughts
11:8

~

All this is not the matter of a mind’s eye where Luigi is concerned. Even at 20/20, 

Luigi knows his. In his way, not embarrassed like some. Reconstruction as we say, 

appropriately enough for Pompeii visible first in his digging around. Like all country 

peasants, paisano and married—to a natural force of woman. It is so historically, and 

has been when it works, especially in the old country. In the line of Vesuvius he is 

wise. He knows where his gold lays. Among such men, some men are ready to suffer 

anything, even scars, crescent scars from ear to chin. In Pompeii, in the south, a 

crescent translates forbo whether actual, impressed or indicated. And brotherhood. 

Recognizing a pattern in indicates and denotes is itself remarkable, thus our 

remarking and impression. The men of proto Vesuvius—all marked and proud. The

question is—is this approach enough story without questioning. Is it too big—all men 

for all time. Men as in human kind, as in drawn to a void or at least the dirt—to that 

other and trembled phasing.

~

like a rock 
surf pounds
while
a sea falls
to sleep
there
in front of it
4:49

~

We see son and know the father and the knowing. Close to earth as they are still, still 

avoiding a biblical sense. To begin, and the end of things. And in the sin the void is 

filled. And son and sin conflate themselves without loss. We are moving right 

along—on our way. The son’s entry comes later and is after all, unimportant now. 

That he exists is all. And yet all sons seem refined and more so. Less forbo until there 

is father and some ending. Even then moving on. Not talking in Luigi’s talking and 

not just occasionally. The collector named him a monger. But only fish is prefixed. 

Not war and not scandal. A lovely character finally. No wonder his wife suspected the 

wife later.

~

quit dithering
as dithering
disturbs
sleep and
wakefulness alike
these two
4:22

Introducing other characters might be a heading. We know there is the narrator, here. 

But we haven’t mentioned the husband and just touched on collectors. Still we are go 

betweens, all of us. On the one hand the story, all-important language, as it always is,

primary even in Italian. Back to the husband and making a living by the seat of his 

pants. There is wife. Not in italics, just roman, that and Latin-speaking before Italian. 

We think she knows more than she is saying, finally. But that has to do with time, as 

in time passes and we forget. It takes time to get somewhere. Hold on, remember its 

meaning. Trains, although not character, lending character, play some small role in 

some stories, like this one near a station. Controls exist in such contexts. There are 

inspectors of restaurants and of hotels. Most bahnhof hotels are C’s if their name is 

bahnhof or train house. The grade doesn’t just land there in the guide. It is bestowed. 

Yes, there is hierarchy and listings. Who would own such a simple hotel, such as train 

house. No prestige in a job nor proprietorship: a marginal business where marginal 

businesses prosper. Night manager sounds good. Luigi lands in a bahnhof hotel, the 

very same as our night manager, of course, the husband. Down from Pompeii. Fully 

storied there. We see that he is carrying our timeline nicely. The husband of the 

narrator speaks six languages. He is happy, we mentioned that. Not so happy that the 

seat of his pants came up. Another translation could be street-smart but the bahnhof 

hotel is in an alley. So truly, he was alley-smart then. Worrying about what’s done. 

~

to disembark
burn something other
than a little boat
when marking a spot
with an oar-
not to tremble
3:3

~

Luigi meets everyone he should. This goes without saying for the story. Meeting is a 

link and Italian, a grease, but perhaps too metaphoric in the transportation sense and 

traffic, of course. There will be greasing of palms too for assistance. In the lion’s den 

we are mute, a matter of survival. Thanking gods for the bleating of sheep and for 

having too much to think about now between lions and noisy sheep. The proprietor is 

making money off Luigi. Who knows how much, certainly not Luigi. The husband 

with another point of view is either sympathetic or opportunistic mostly. Most likely 

both, in small ways. How exotic it all seems and seemed. We did mention, night 

manager. Time enough on the job for shadow-talking on stairs. A hotel one room 

wide and stairs running to the top right beside, more properly, Hotel Bahnhof. The 

water closet abbreviated to WC in the hall, no doubt. It is all at most a C. 

~

just as
by bit
things change
a stone thrown
doesn’t make a mistake—
it falls
9:17

~

Now we can’t deal only in facts, but there is a garland and a bronze, one in gold, the 

other, Athena. We are getting a little ahead of the story, trying not to lose thoughts 

that we do at every turn. Pompeians lost every and each word to ash. So dreamatic. 

There are still borders in Luigi’s lifetime. He crosses as a peasant. Not that he is not. 

It is part and parcel of the plan and natural. In the tomatoes, among the apricots and 

plums he hides the garland and lady. Where’s the humorous touch about lira tucked 

around the fruit. Must be either a sign of value or of greasing. A bribe. A gift horse. 

Check the teeth. Or sous la table. Who knows. It is impossible to say some things the 

way we want without indication that someone knows something.

~

being opposite 
and nothing else
4:7

~

The night manager works nights. The wife, not. We schedule a meeting for a Monday. 

No moon, no plan, just a ride to the top collector, already established. The collector 

sends a car around to our apartment to pick up the wife and Luigi. The time of day is 

external. No, that is not true. Luigi must be there already—depuis l’apres midi—with 

the collector. There is no room in a car with doors like wings to carry Luigi too. It’s 

night. Just a detail, but telling. In a flash there is the townhouse. The wife slides out 

onto the sidewalk. Snakes after the driver. This is probably illegal, by whose law is 

the question. Someone considers this transaction illegal, anyway. At this point how 

much story is too much is such dickering. We are rushing. We are buzzed in, in its 

hallowed walls. The collector’s house is a virtual museum. The haggle goes on, no 

other word, until we’re done with it. Can’t be slanderous either, so nameless. We saw 

the sarcophagus, one of three in the collecting world collected. A cold mark of 

something in the climate controlled basement. It is the emphasis: alone and all of 

lime—this ancient word for a flesh consuming stone sits above ground primarily. 

Who sees it and is seen. Time lists him as the collector of, the this or the that, make 

no difference. Coldly stone and stolen.

~

does the news bother you?
change the channel
4:7

~

Let’s go says Luigi. Where to? No one budges. The collector makes signals all night 

as it goes. We are somehow at cross-purposes our parts unclear. Maybe the collector 

is smarter than Luigi. In English he says he wants the lady and winks at the wife. The 

inter-twist in knowing, a tension maintained and doubled. Come down. Luigi. Ah, 

Luigi, come down off your walls. Even your blue eyes can’t save you. Take the 

money. All the games. Wear the garland, even though yours is gold, theirs laurel. All 

the pleasure is done. Fifteen thousand Swiss francs, for Athena. The garland in a 

cotton bed, perhaps just thrown in. Imagine that. The final question how to fit fifteen 

thousand in the heel of a shoe or anywhere else. Keeping two small oil vessels in 

among our fruit.

 

Chapters and verses adapted from, influenced by or paraphrased from—
Marcus Aurelius and His Times,
The Transition for Paganism to Christianity.
Comprising
Marcus Aurelius: Meditations.

Walter J. Black, Roslyn, New York, 1945.

 

 

Barbara Maloutas lived for 5 years in Basel, Switzerland where she studied graphic design. She is one of the winners of the 2002 New Issues first book in poetry contest for In a Combination of Practices. She is the winner of the 2003 New Michigan Press Chapbook Contest for Practices. Her work has also appeared in 2003 edition of Aufgabe and the 2003 online editions of Segue and Tarpaulin Sky. “Artifact of Pompeii” is from a poetic prose work tentatively entitled This Issue of Evropi. She spends what time she can in Greece.

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