“Boccaccio: The Plague Years”

A Poem by Rita Dove

August 28, 2020  By Rita Dove

Even at night the air rang and rang.
Through the thick swirled glass
he watched the priests sweep past
in their peaked hoods, collecting death.
On each stoop a dish burning sweet
clotted smoke. He closed his eyes
to hear the slap
of flesh onto flesh, a
liquid crack like a grape
as it breaks on the tongue.

As a boy he had slipped
along the same streets, in love with
he didn’t know whom. O the
reeded sonatinas and torch
flick on the chill slick sides
of the bridge and steam
rising in plumes
from the slaughterhouse vents—
twenty years.

Rolling out of the light
he leaned his cheek
against the rows of bound leather:
cool water. Fiammetta!
He had described her
a hundred ways; each time
she had proven unfaithful. If only
he could crack this city in two
so the moon would scour
the wormed streets clean! Or
walk away from it all, simply
falling in love again . . .


collected poems, rita dove

Reprinted from Collected Poems: 1974-2004. Copyright (c) 2016 by Rita Dove. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rita Dove
Rita Dove
Rita Dove is the recipient of many honors, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she is a Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia and lives in Charlottesville.

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