We moored at dusk. The gangway clanked & swayed
beneath my weight, Vesuvius a blue
ghost at my back as I walked into Naples
on the seawall. Threads of laughter floated
toward me from a gathering below
the great, black towers of Castel Nuovo.
Soon I saw a platinum blonde, in heels
& stockings, standing at the center of
a throng of my shipmates, some of them clutching twenties.
This was April 1975.
I woke the next day in a state of terror.
Slowly, I remembered swallowing
a four-way windowpane I’d bought in front
of the USO. Bad trip, I thought. So this
is what it feels like. Snakes coiling beneath
my skin. But this was only the beginning.
Often, in AA, we talk about
a line we’ve crossed, a point of no return,
but in my case, it wasn’t quite that clear.
In April 1975, I’d head
for the Piazza del Municipio
almost every evening; idle over
tables full of rosaries & switchblades;
breathe the air of oranges, fish stalls, angels
frozen on their pedestals against
a solferino sky. I don’t know why
I’d wander, wine-drunk, through the crumbling slums
that scale the slopes of the Vomero. I
remember, one night, clambering up a staircase
alley barely wider than my shoulders.
All around me, I could hear the rustling
sound of running water. Suddenly,
a wave of rats swarmed down on me, cascading
like a waterfall of shadows through
the shadows. I remember turning, slipping,
plunging in one motion straight into
a trash heap; & then leaping up & running,
flying downhill over the cobblestones
until I reached the lights of Via Toledo.
There I stopped, & I shook myself, as if
my sleeves were full of rats, as if my veins
were full of rats. I lit a cigarette—
its bright-orange ember glowing in each shop
I passed on my way toward my ship—& by
the time a hammered sheen had spread across
the black glass of the harbor, we were gone.