“The Battle of Anghiari (1505) … often referred to as ‘The Lost Leonardo,’ …believe[d] to be hidden beneath one of the later [Vasari] frescoes … in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. … a scene of a violent clash of horses and a furious battle of men fighting for the flag.”
“The battle … was fought on 29 June 1440, between the forces of Milan and the League of some Italian states led by the Republic of Florence in the course of the Wars in Lombardy [1423–1454]. The battle was a victory for the Florentines…. remarkable for the fact that though the battle lasted all day, involving several thousand troops, it was said that only one soldier was killed.”
We took the morning bus
west from Umbrian Sansepolcro
across the Tiber to Anghiari
on its cypressed Tuscan hill.
A bald statement and uninspiring.
But we climbed the twisting road,
and at the crest passed through
vast fields of sunflowers,
faces turned toward us,
attending to the sun
behind us calling reveille.
We strolled the stony alleys,
in and out of shadow,
gazed down Via della Battaglia,
Battle Street, blade-straight, narrow,
so steep that buses can’t manage,
and across the plain where half
a thousand years past, battle
whirled. Swords (we thought)
flashed in midday sun and flashed
into limbs and murky guts,
arrows flying soldier to soldier,
bees’ dance to dark blossoms.
Leonardo sketched it, frescoed
it, sixty years later:
war undeterred by death
or divine injunctions or platitudes
of turning other cheeks.
If there were a winner,
it didn’t last long;
by nightfall or century’s end
blooms left standing
would reverse their lightward spin,
again and again, sunset
now calling taps
west from Florentine hills,
soon rising from Venice in the east.
Our house ranneth over with stones: bowls of agates
off Agate Beach, ringed basalt talismans drawer-huddled,
flowerbeds roiling with eroded, riddled shale from Ediz Hook.
On our walks my shallow pockets filled with rocks,
not even multicolored or unique but dully gray, signifying
something then, now meaningless, unmemorable.
These and shells, from tiny clams or snails, might
populate the ashtray of the car (when cars had ashtrays
and no seatbelts), sand dollar ikons on the dash.
Lately, speckled cowries from pelican havens
in La Jolla, holed “hagstones” from the Norfolk coast,
Anzio’s or Amalfi’s shards of ancient pottery,
Irish-green pebbles from Lahinch. And a witch’s brew
of feathers from Cackling Geese, Scrub Jays, even
Bald Eagles; a hoof or mandible; bits of mousebone;
skull of Anna’s Hummingbird; tail of winter weasel
(bought—not found—at a tribal store).
Seedpods of catalpa, strange nuts and fruit
mummified like beads or heads, smuggled
through Customs to accrue in my room,
my desk at work, on windowsills and in little boxes.
All portals to the real magic realm
which a mere look can open, from where
my corporeal self lingers in the worldly.
We pass constantly through trappings
of an unrecognized cathedral, frescoes
of lichen on a wall, hanging tapestries
of leaves, all of which carry echoes
of our obscure sabbaths in other places,
the shores of other times.
Dry, flat and faded blossom relics
interleave dictionary pages where my mother
placed them after her long-ago wanderings.
Now her room’s vases hold maple leaves
fallen sere in the sanatorium grounds.
Like an ikon on a wall calling to mind
a higher plane she once engaged with,
each skeletal shape means something to her still,
if she could only put it into words.
Good times, bad
times. Maybe it’s my frame of mind
(some might blame the darkness of the Jews,
though Episcopalians tried their damnedest
to add me to their flock), but it’s the bad times
that stick, the flubs, the hurts given and received,
flaws, cumulonimbi within silverish linings.
I’d venture more than just me,
it’s the human darkness that dredges up
lessons learned the hard way
to avoid the next time. Who remembers
as crystally the things that didn’t go wrong?
The tricky part (there’s always a tricky part)
is when good things turn out to be bad
down the road. Are we wary of that good thing then?
Take the cryptologist so conditioned after years
successfully decoding duplicitous messages
that even love can’t be taken at face value.
And then there’s the bad thing
you come to see was the disguised blessing:
take the crucial tail wind that died
just as the 21st Bomber Command on Tinian
November 17, 1944 was about to take off:
their mission was scrubbed but their lives were
saved, that frustrating calm followed soon enough
by a six-day storm that could have left 119
brand-new B‑29s, each manned by 11, now
empty of bombs on their return from Japan,
lost and typhoon-blind, plunging fuelless
somewhere in the Philippine Sea.
But good or bad? As it was,
the lucky squadron still flew, a week late,
still dropped their hundreds of explosives;
the deaths from that delayed “victory”
and the later firebombs and atomics
perhaps prevented untold thousands more
had America not prevailed. (That
was the argument anyway.) Or take
Major Kong, Dr. Strangelove’s B‑52 pilot
you find yourself rooting for even though
bombing the Rooskies will set off Doomsday.
The slope is slippery indeed. Good turns to bad
in a blink like a bike ride that ends in a swerve
and crash; though you are happy to have
a helmet to save your precious noggin,
your brain will remember – what?
the fun or the accident, intertwined
like two poisons that are each other’s antidote,
god and devil creating the need for themselves,
world without end. The hackneyed piety
turns out to be perhaps true: that good
requires evil, no dreams are sweet
Sean S. Bentley’s work has appeared in the magazines Crab Creek Review, Seattle Review, Third Coast, Painted Bride, Northwest Review, Poetry NOW, Bellingham Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Coe Review, and many others, as well as the anthologies Pontoon 3 (Floating Bridge Press), Iron Country (Copper Canyon), Intro 6 (Doubleday), Island Of Rivers (Pacific NW National Parks Assoc.), and Darkness and Light: Private Writing as Art (iUniverse). In addition, he has published three collections: Grace & Desolation (Cune Press), Instances (Confluence Press), and Into the Bright Oasis (Jawbone Press). From 1986 to 2006 he coedited the print poetry journal Fine Madness.