My time at Civitella was inspiring and productive. How could it not be, high up in the turret studio of Barbagianni! I am currently working on a new collection of poems, and I wrote drafts of several new poems. The conversations I had with the four other poets in my Fellows’ cohort were instrumental in helping me to think more deeply about how poems work, and why poems matter. I am also completing a collection of essays on poetry and art. I started and finished one of these essays at Civitella: an essay on Giorgio Morandi. Our field trip to San Sepolcro and Monterchi to see the paintings by Piero della Francesca was very much the catalyst for the essay. Thinking about Piero’s work helped me to think about Morandi’s work more clearly.
LOOKING AT THE ROMANS
in the museum, the heavy marble busts
on their white plinths, I recognize one likeness
as my uncle, the retired accountant
whose mind, like a conquered country, is turning
into desert, into the dust of forgotten things.
The white head of an old man, big as a god,
its short curled hair still rich
as matted grass, is my grandmother,
a Roman on her deathbed, surrounded
by a citizenry of keening, her breaths rising out
of the dark of a well, the orange medicine bottles
massed like an emergency on the table.
The delicate face of the serious young man
is another uncle, the one who lost
his friends when a plane hit their aircraft carrier,
the one who dropped pomegranate fires
on the scattering villagers, on the small
brown people who looked like him.
One bust is of a noblewoman, the pleats
of her toga articulated into silky marble folds,
her hair carved into singular strands:
she is the aunt who sends all her money home,
to lazy sons and dying neighbors.
Another marble woman is my other aunt,
the one who grows guavas and persimmons,
the one who dries salted fish on her garage roof,
as though she were still mourning
the provinces. Here is the cousin who is a priest.
Here is the cousin who sells drugs.
Here is the other grandmother, her heart still
skilled at keeping time. Here is my mother
in the clear pale face of a Roman’s wife,
a figure moving softly, among flowers and slaves.
Looking at the Romans
07/01/2020: Kundiman – 20 Books to Read for Pride
05/07/2020: Rick Barot, Winner of the Shelley Memorial Award
05/04/2020: Conversation with Rick Barot