Carolyn Raphael

picture of Carolyn Raphael


Carolyn Raphael retired from the English Department at Queensborough Community College, CUNY, after more than thirty years of teaching. Her poems have appeared in journals including The Lyric, Measure, Orbis, and Rattapallax. Her chapbook, Diagrams of Bittersweet, was published by Somers Rocks Press in 1997, and her poetry collection, The Most Beautiful Room in the World, was published by David Robert Books in February, 2010. Her new collection, Dancing with Bare Feet, will be published by White Violet Press in early 2016.

First Birthday

For Peter

Today the birthday melody is flat,
the gifts, bouquets of flowers on his grave;
each guest puts on a coal-black party hat,
and no one knows the right way to behave.

He would have marked his 80th year this day,
but we will have to celebrate without him;
we’ll raise a glass to friendship anyway,
exchanging famous anecdotes about him.

He bought three kinds of cakes (the ones on sale)
on Wednesdays for the lower seniors’ rate,
recalled each play he saw in full detail:
the theater, stars, the usher, and the date.

We smile then note his absence from our table;
we practice how to live, as we are able.

Water Games

During the Renaissance and after, the Italian aristocracy loved to show off the
extravagant gardens of their country villas. One of their amusements was
to soak their guests with hidden jets of water (giochi d’acqua). Owned by
Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, The Medici Villa Reale at Castello
hid a famous one.

1569, The Grotto of the Animals, the Medici Villa at Castello

The Noblewoman

This Tuscan heat—I’m broiling like a sirloin.
Perhaps this grotto will afford relief.
The walls boast such a beautiful design
Of pebbles, sea shells, mosaics on the walls.
Three fountains: two white marble, one in peach.
Above them a menagerie in stone:
giraffe, wild boar, an elephant and bear,
A camel, antelope, rhinoceros—
A unicorn for fancy. And so cool…
What was that click? The gates are locking us in.
Where is this water spouting from? The floor!
My dress, the cut-green velvet one, is drenched.
My hair, which just this morning Anna dressed
With fine gold net and precious stones, is dripping.
Is this the Grand Duke’s version of a joke?
I must laugh like the others (oh, my shoes!).

The Nobleman

Last time my cloak took seven days to dry,
So this time I picked out a lighter one.
Of course I kept the secret, as the Grand Duke
Cautioned—There is no joke without surprise.
I’m soaked to my silk chemise. My wide-brimmed black
Felt hat is weighed down by its sodden fur.
Look at Umberto, searching fruitlessly
For refuge from the spray. We must appear
Like living sculptures trapped in one of the fountains.
See how Rosina tries to brush the water
From her brocade gown. Surely the silk is ruined—
And yet, she may be asked to come again.

Cosimo I de’ Medici, Gramd Duke of Tuscany

Delightful, how they scurry. No escape.
Just like my conquest of Siena, but
With water flowing now, not blood. I like
To watch their actions: first the shock, then aimless
Darting about—resignation and defeat.
At first, they toured my gardens, grandly done
By Tribolo, with statues of my family’s
Revered virtues: justice, wisdom—and so on;
Then terracotta pots of citrus trees,
So large the gardeners had to wheel them into
The limonaia against the winter freeze.
The grotto gates have opened now; my guests
Repair to their rooms to change their clothes and rest.
It’s time for me to take my rest as well,
Remembering my Eleonora, taken
As well as two of my sons, two of my daughters.
I’ll spend my waning days here at Castello,
Survey my woods and gardens, count the lemons
Perfuming the air. There still is time for laughter.


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