Salt and Alabaster

Volterra squats on its summit
Sheltering behind stone walls
Squinting suspiciously
Out over peaceful Tuscany.

Are there any armies coming?

These huge walls were built by
Etruscan giants, whose blind heads peer
From their great gates
Over the lovely land below.

Look out for armies out there!

The narrow streets all slant,
Curving steeply up or down
All the buildings are sandstone
Lashed by the centuries.

Are we safe behind our walls?

Their saints protect them against Ostrogoths,
Or build them churches,
Or are dusty half-forgotten popes.
Fish play around St. Christopher’s feet.

Stand between us and harm!

The shops sell salt and alabaster,
Cards, crafts, candles,
They eat strange wild meats,
Hare, pigeon, venison.

Gifts of the hillside.

Everything seems calm,
Huge, stone, monumental,
The steep streets are almost empty
The population is half what it was.

Do you see any armies coming?

Volterra remembers 1472
Federico da Montefeltro
When walls and saints were no protection
When alum spelled disaster.

Look out, look out, look out!

Through the long centuries since
They huddle behind their huge walls
Draw together in the narrow streets
Beside their battered sandstone lions.

Are there any armies coming?

26th January 2023, Florence