This poem appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Modern Age. To subscribe to the journal, click here.

What were they thinking, painters of frescos,
owners of villas floundering
toward decoration? The masterpieces
scraped from volcanic muck rarely possess

a trompe l’oeil that would send a man
to pluck an iris or flail away at a wasp.
Take the greenfinch, as it probably was,
stealing toward a scatter of ripe pears,

preserving more life than the plaster
casts of Pompeiians, horrors cursing
the gods or just gasping for breath.
Pompeian red, as it came to be called,

washed the decaying backdrop
for the finch’s forever interrupted
foray into the kitchen store, beak
almost touching the forbidden fruit.