In Galleries

The guard has a right to despair. He stands by God
Being tickled by the Madonna; the baby laughs
And pushes himself away from his mother.
The lines and hollows of the piece of stone
Are human to people: their hearts go out to it.
But the guard has no one to make him human —
They walk through him as if he were a reflection.
The guard does not see them either, you are sure,
But he notices when someone touches something
And tells him not to; otherwise he stands
Blind, silent, among the people who go by
Indistinguishably, like minutes, like the hours.
Slowly the days go by, the years go by
Quickly: how many minutes does it take
To make a guard’s hair uniformly gray?
But in Italy, sometimes, a guard is different.
He is poorer than a guard would be at home —
How cheap his old uniform is, how dirty!
He is a fountain of Italian:
He pulls back a curtain, shows you where to stand,
Cajoles you back to the Ludovisi Throne
To show you the side people forget to look at —
And exclaiming hopefully, vivaciously,
Bellissima! he shows you that in the smashed
Head of the crouching Venus the untouched lips
Are still parted hopefully, vivaciously,
In a girl’s clear smile. He speaks and smiles;
And whether or not you understand Italian,
You understand he is human, and still hopes —
And, smiling, repeating his Bellissima!
You give him a dime’s worth of aluminum.
You may even see a guard who is dumb, whose rapt
Smile, curtain-pulling-back, place-indication,
Plain conviction that he guards a miracle
Are easier to understand than Italian.
His gestures are full of faith in — of faith.
When at last he takes a magnifying glass
From the shiny pocket of his uniform
And shows you that in the painting of a woman
Who holds in her arms the death of the world
The something on the man’s arm is the woman’s
Tear, you and the man and the woman and the guard
Are dumbly one. You say Bellissima!
Bellissima! and give him his own rapt,
Dumb, human smile, convinced he guards
A miracle. Leaving, you hand the man
A quarter’s worth of nickel and aluminum.