Severn, lift me up. I am dying. I shall die easy; don’t be frightened –
be firm, and thank God it has come.
~ Last words of John Keats 23 February 1821

Dusk again, and fever descends
like flame on the waxed wick
of a new taper.

Now come the bruised hours
of Rome’s brief slumber—
no footfall on the steps
whose open arms burn iridium
in moonlight,
even the Barcaccia seems to shush
the dirge it traces on the water.

For you, there is only faint
ease on your brow
beneath Severn’s cool fingers,
a knot in the throat
where speech is stopped
by what’s unquenchable,
not even the clemency
of laudanum, for dread
you’ll quaff your way into oblivion.
There is only the sorry room’s

Nothing beautiful in this
wasting, unless
your cheekbones lifting
like wings of seraphim
who cover their faces for fear
of the Lord, unless the fevered
luminescence of eyes that flicker
like the vanishing logic
of dreams.

No Pentecostal drops of fire,
heaven-sent through clay
roof tiles to teach you the tongue
of the dead, only carved white
daisies on a ceiling washed
in aquamarine that mirror,
you say, your all-too-soon view
from the grave that lies,
already open,
in the English Cemetery.

But now, at last,
comes mercy’s quickening—
the deluge in lungs
that crumble like rotted sails
torn lose in a sudden gale,
Severn’s strong arms
to lift you as you praise
the hot tide as it rises.

Frank Paino’s poems have appeared in a variety of literary journals and anthologies. His third book, Obscura, was published by Orison Books in 2020. Among other awards, he has received a Pushcart Prize, The Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature, and an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council.