Alice O. Howell          



No one knew

the cardinal had been in love

and walked naked

in his five senses

while the Lion of St. Mark

nosing into the Venetian watery winter winds

purported not

to notice

it was because of Lespintina de Ossio

eighteen, whose wide grey eyes

he'd seen, as if in dream

and whose confession

had been handed up to him

by several chalk hands

with black cuffs

her sin?

it seemed to him (for so it had been reported)

she thought the devil more sincere in his evil

than those pretending good who

shunned the dear gifts and wounds of Christ

had  He himself not suffered

children, publicans, and

the hot-splayed Magdalen

and those whose peccancies

were sharp, small, yet secret

all in the name of

circumstantial love?

the cardinal froze for his portrait

that we know

but there was a tenderness withal

hidden in one limp finger

a little pardon

because of his own needs

had not her youthful and simple logic

undone him in his scarlet chambers

there where he had sighed

with such regrets

his prayerstool prefiguring

               his certain catafalque

which she surely would have wept to see the lace of

had the plague not carried her off

at twenty.