for Greg Bailey
at Hadrian’s Villa
Even the villa olives are envious
of the nap-time beauty of his body,
and the pensive sun, imagine,
and the vying poppies—
See how remarkably
his signature, tallied curls,
and sconce-intense eyes
have come down to us,
in expressive statuary and hardy coins—
We’ve been hearing lavish tales
of lithe Antinoüs’ glory
(the lover made into an upraised star)
and the emperor’s boundless loss
for some time now.
Have we learned a little
about toppling desire? Unchecked love
raised to the level of the gods?
Like chiding Clement of Alexandria,
feel free to ask the illustrious
but ensnared Hadrian’s ghost:
Why magnify his beauty?
Why count among the deities
one prized merely
for his pleasure-giving nights and days?
Resplendent as a winning chariot
come to rest,
Antinoüs is not ambition, not decorum, not sanity:
trim Antinoüs’ kingdom
is the alluring terra of a lover’s
moonlit, ineluctable arms—
Does it matter if the Hadrian’s favorite
drowned by accident
or by his own hand?
The impinging sorrow is nearly the same:
wine-sweet Antinoüs means
the chilling assurance,
merciless as a corsair,
we will love and lose
as surely as effusive summer will segue
into inconsolable fall’s
shower of sun-gold leaves . . .