I came to Civitella during a period of transition in my writing life, looking to gather the work of several years and prepare for a new chapter. What I found here was an extraordinary reservoir of the most needed elements in an artist’s life: inspiration, discipline, kinship. (Also, ping pong.) It is remarkable, in a life marked by solitary work, rudderless periods, and limited audiences, to be so fully met. The richness of the experience—in food, scenery, language, friendship, ideas—overflows onto the page, again and again. Yet these luxuries I also found to be a curious goad. Rather than encourage complacency, the tremendous balm of the castle pushed me farther into questioning my position: an American abroad, partaking of great beauty, living out a certain fantasy while the ravages of empire, the violence born of dogma and distrust, played out in my home. More than at any time before, I found a need to witness. The result has been a new sequence of sonnets, immersed in the Civitella landscape, but questioning the lyric impulse to look only at the beautiful.
In June, day cracks like a fruit. Certain birds
perseverate, a song of four notes, repeat.
Sun touches the gravel courtyard so close
you almost hear it. The tiglio stills.
On stonework bulbous ants, luxuriant
as blackberries. The yard in chiaroscuro.
Stag beetle takes shade, a tipsy prelate.
Beneath the arbor: marble white, yellow plums.
There is a weight to so much paradise—
it obligates an adequate response.
Fooled by the heat, I lean into the act
of description. I want to make the lyric
equal to the castle, Umbria,
this bliss. I burn through morning’s notebooks trying.