We arrived late at a small immaculate hotel.
Like most we'd come for the cathedral and tomb
Of the three wise men. The young owner
Wore a puffy silk shirt, and in all rooms
Swayed handsome inside plumes of smoke.
The next day, before we set out, we saw photos
In the breakfast nook of a tennis player—headlines,
Trophies, fawning women, sleek cars—evidence
Of fame, the accoutrements of a lavish style.
The star was the young man's grandfather—
The thick black hair, high forehead and
Easy smile, identical. Riding on family
Fame, the young owner had already mastered
The jubilation of the blurred sweet life
Without ever having gripped a racket.
We could picture him routinely eating late,
Smoking and drinking after the cafes closed,
Driving a peppy sports car, keeping women
Charmed with his insouciance, his disregard
For boundaries, appetites, signs of distress.
We talked about the drug of extravagance,
The thrill of speed as we aimed for the cathedral,
Stained nearly black by pollution and nailed
Above the Rhine like a lacy bat's wing.
Did I envy the purity of his abandon
As much as you rejected the kissed promise
Of the greater life rushing toward this man
Through women he would never love enough?
Did I crave the pleasures of my younger self
With no intention of telling you I felt lost?
Inside, the basilica flamed radiant as hydrogen,
Encased in gold, silver, and jeweled enamel.
Brighter still were the faces of pilgrims
Who saw in the tomb a shining child
Waiting for the beginning of the world.