I come from a country in which it is not safe for a woman to walk alone at night. This freedom is restricted in many other places in the world too. Few women can unselfconsciously entrust their bodies to an even road, assume the protection of streetlights or the clarity of stars and moon, listen with comfort to strange night sounds. And in my country, women in appalling percentages fear rape, mutilation and murder even walking close to home.
At Civitella, bounteous place, I lived at Castrabecco, ten minutes walk along a tree- lined lane from the castle itself, ten minutes from the dinner table, its candle intimacies, the heady talk of smart and eccentric Fellows, the lingering over grappa and limoncello.
During my residency I began work on a manuscript about the nature – the difficulty and the necessity- of bonding across racial and cultural boundaries. But here instead is a poem I wrote about my walk home, and, implicitly, about the benefits of working at Civitella in serenity and safety, protected by fireflies – a period of temporary grace.
Walking back late at night
Inside an aisle of cypresses
my torch makes shadows of shadows,
darting fireflies darn the dark,
gravel crackles underfoot,
and now I pass the chicken shed
where beaks and throats are quiet inside
resting till morning’s crow.
How can I walk so lightly in this dark?
Where a body pressed against a tree
could menace me by watching
or a blade could jag across my path
to enter my heart and brain tonight.
But no, I am safe in this dark,
I am blessed, I am lucky,
only the weight of honeysuckle is upon me,
tall indifferent trees around me,
only fireflies glance and glitter,
nothing is watching me, nothing.