blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



Casa Dei Dioscuri

Consider, reader,

          the east portico of the great courtyard
         of the Casa dei Dioscuri,

the Casa dei Dioscuri,
facing west on the Via di Mercurio,
Pompeii (excavation code no. VI ix 6/7),

            the Casa dei Dioscuri,
            owned at one point
            by the family Nigidii,

the source
of whose great wealth
(as often is the case)

            is not readily apparent.
            But there was great wealth, reader,

Mercury Street
one lavish house after another.

           M. Nigidius Vaccula
           gave as a gift to the Pompeiian baths
           a large bronze brazier supported on legs

shaped like calves’ legs,
with small calf heads
at the top of each.

            He gave other bronzes,
            shaped like calves, like sphinxes,
            just before the volcano opened.

Perhaps Vaccula finished these bronzes
in the back of the Casa dei Dioscuri,
for the rooms on the north side

            of the viridarium
            are in factory plan.

The street was quiet.

            At the northern end
            toward the city wall

the street was blind.
Its southern end
opening to the forum.

            In the house’s entrance corridor,
            two paintings, one each of the Dioscuri,
            Castor and Pollux, gods of commerce and the sea,

the Dioscuri, each beside a horse,
each with the wide eyes less of the heroic
than of the blind or frightened.

             Consider the Casa dei Dioscuri,
             the east portico of the great courtyard,

where was painted in strong browns
and reds, pale blues and grays

             Medea contemplating her children.

The painter, unidentified, has painted Medea
with a broad nose, a strip of light running to the tip.

            The folds of Medea’s skirt
            are like the reeds of a swamp.

Medea, dressed in calamus,
holding a sword. As is the way of time:
the blade has vanished.

            Ghost-blade. The wall’s
            Nucerian tufa, lava-rock.

Consider the Casa dei Dioscuri,
in whose great courtyard
Medea (holding, not holding a sword)

            contemplates the children beside her,
            lanky as Parmigianino babies.
            Their sex, undecided.

Presume, as from Seneca,
they are boys. Two sons.

The difference in age,
likewise, undecided.

            Would she kill the older one first?
            Or younger? And how to tell?

And which more terrible for her?
And which, more to the point, for Jason,
standing in the painting

            beneath a doorway
            flooded with the sunlight of a different myth altogether.

Who to kill first? The children,
leaning on a cube,
don’t understand.

             In contrast to Medea’s strong browns
             and reds,
             they are already vanishing.

(The sword. Survived only as a hilt.)

             Consider, in the courtyard
             of the Casa dei Dioscuri,
             these children

from the walls

              of a house
              of a city
              that had survived Vesuvius.

These children.
Who are important now
only in that one must die first,

               and then
               the other.

Beyond this,
they are fading,
painted in the moment of their twin deaths.
They have outlived
their own story.

            Or are condemned, always,
             to the cusp of it,

in the Casa dei Dioscuri.  

return to top