In a Year of Drought, I Drink Wine in a Los Angeles Hot Tub

By Christopher Kempf

Featured Art: Interior of the Pantheon, Rome by Giovanni Paolo Panini

So too on Troy’s final afternoon
the doomed children of the city sang. Such
      was their joy, Virgil tells us, such

was their simple awestruck wonder
at the great beast even
      the Achaeans, cramped, standing

on each other’s shoulders inside
the close wood, wept. What
      he means, of course, is that inside

of the other’s suffering, one
can imagine always aspects
      of a wild beauty refusing

negation. Or no. Not
that it exists, this
      beauty, but that

it can be made so. Rome
Virgil says, springing
      from Ilion’s ashes. Elsewhere

Orpheus. This
is not my home. Here
      for the weekend only, I float

out into the hot tub’s bubbling, bleach-
& salt-scoured water. I watch
      the few stars the city permits

still flicker on, the long
avenues of light below them—Cienaga
      & Sunset, Ventura—burn

& spangle in the mountains’ dark bowl. The bottle
of La Marca prosecco sweats. To secure
      for their desert metropolis water

enough to nourish all this, city
      the arrival, reports suggest, of something

like a hundred thousand drought
struck families fleeing
      the plains’ vast clouds of dust—drained

whole tracts of Valley farmland. The Los Angeles
      of brute, New Deal engineering—appeared

suddenly, punched
out from concrete & hope. & here
      at last the people drank. & maybe

it had to go wrong, that moment. Maybe
Troy’s last carnival charms us,
      yes, because we know now how

the Achaeans came, who slayed
& cast from the walls of that city Astyanax,
      Hector’s son. The swords, Virgil says,

were many & beautiful. Beyond
the lights of Wiltshire Tower tonight, the dried-
      up & sewage-stuffed trench left

from the river rots. Not
one fountain in the city lifts,
      now, its mouth

of extravagant water skyward. Not
one far hill exists the flames have spared. Obscured
      in the smog & hot tub’s steam, the sword

of Orion flashes. I fill
my glass to the rim. I raise it
      to the great hunter, that structure

of dust & flame flickering
above Los Angeles like a man—majestic, see,
      in his warrior’s vestments—vanishing.

Christopher Kempf is the author of WHAT THOUGH THE FIELD BE LOST (LSU, 2021) and LATE IN THE EMPIRE OF MEN (Four Way, 2017). He teaches in the MFA program at the University of Illinois.

Originally published in NOR 18: Fall 2015

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