by Peter Jeffery
We are half cousins to the fish
On the Lido, small black Romans eat the fruits of the sea,
Spiked anemone, mussel eye and whorled sea snail.
Still dripping salt water held between fingers,
They are gulped down as a groper,
Blind with huge dull eyes, mumbles weed on rocks,
Till sated, they belch and flop away
In a dribble of towels and flapping thongs.
But in Ostia the small brown Romans
Dived deep into the element,
With the alertness of a gull sighting flake of fish.
Water held as their port in the hands of the sea,
Thus cradled and rocked, they watched
The sad dying of dolphins in the net
Or the squids cast on the mosaics.
No wonder they were brothers to the sea,
And saw the huge marriage feast of Neptune
Where nymphs and horses and gods trailed tails,
Sexual, rhythmic and pulsing through water,
Their proudest stance
Was prone or diving down
Into the rapture of the deep
Where in bronzed love, these water gods
Laughed ripples of minnows from their mouths
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