Venice, July 2004

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Outside the church of San Zaccaria,
my wife signed an AIDS petition
after two young men had asked her
in Italian if enough was being done.
They’d placed a table outside the church
as tourists ate gelato and walked by in the sun.

As she read it, I wanted to get out of the sun
so I stood in the shadow of San Zaccaria
watching her, wondering how the Church
felt about young men with petitions
hijacking tourists, claiming more needed to be done
about fighting AIDS. They’d stopped her

as we headed for the church and asked her
something in Italian. I waited there in the sun,
feeling deaf, wanting them to be done,
then went and stood in the shadow of Zaccaria.
It’s a church like every other church
in Venice—it’s filled with art. The petition

called AIDS the new plague. If she signed the petition
and left her e-mail, people would contact her.
Contact her? In the U.S.? Inside that church
great art was waiting, and I was standing in the sun
and then waiting in the shadow of San Zaccaria
for her to quickly sign something and be done

with it. But with married life, nothing’s ever done.
When she finished talking and signed the petition,
she joined me under the shadows of San Zaccaria.
Did I know about the Virgin? she asked, how they begged her
to save their city from plague, begged Saint Sebastian
to intercede for them. Inside this very church

incense rose, Venetians filled the church
with their lamentation—something needed to be done
to save them. It was the 16th century. Saint Sebastian’s
arrow wounds symbolized what everyone shunned—
plague spots—like the spots on the young man handing her
the clipboard with the petition. He had Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Did it work? I asked. A third of Venice died, she said. The Church
believed Christ was done with her. Still, they petitioned the Virgin
and held processions outside the church of San Zaccaria.