di Marina Agostinacchio/translation of Cinzia Tullo
Francesca sat up in bed:she brought her hands to her eyes and on doing that gesture she thought she was taking over the sunshine of the new morning. It was Goog Friday of the new Millennium and she was alone again in the double bed, like the previous year, resigned to spend Easter in Milan. To tell the truth there were two sons at home with her, the elder ones; little Aldo liked following his father in his trips to the sunlight, as he called them, to his grandparents’ house in Puglia. Marco and Giacomo fell down onto their mum’s bed , that endless space they could share with her, without the prohibitions of Giulio, their father.
“Mum,- said Marco stretching out – hurry up, what you doing there, enchanted like a cloud catcher. They’re waiting for me at the rehearsal for Easter rites”. Giacomo emitted some strange meowing, in tune with the cat, and, meek, “Come on, make one of your differential breakfasts and let’s exaggerate”. That year, however Easter rites weren’t on her mind at all. She crawled into the kitchen, with her thought fixed on last Thursday.
She saw in her mind what she had lived, almost as if it hadn’t been her, Francesca, the person who had decided to accept the professor’s invitation, the poet’s invitation to the university to talk, at last, about the poems she had been writing for over twenty years; the judgement of her professor-poet had become her life obsession her reason for living.
The coffee pot on fire, the hot milk in the foaming jug, the yellow roses she gave herself at modest prices, rusks and biscuits “Pass the jam – Hey, mum, tell me, aren’t we three fine, above all without Pisolo, the nuisance of the house. Mum, what’s the matter with you? You look like one being on the Moon!” Not really on the Moon, but Francesca was certainly elsewhere.
The space widened while listening again to the professor’s words “Was the poem about the blue shirt for me?” “No, sir, the only blue thing you have, deep blue indeed, is your eyes, be done with it.” In a whisper Francesca repeated the lines written for her husband a year before, in search, even if in the mere impressions of sound, for the magic, the one which had made its mark in the man no longer young, who, had decided, after two years, to read carefully the things she would write and bring him.
And now that I have held you in my arms/- the nights already announced you/ persistent in the hour, safe from any defense/ how many miles to the next galaxy/ of a dejà vu?/ The dream or the contact, in the twilight/ just born, twins one in the other,/reality or unreality, without importance/; only thinned out vapours of myrrh scent in our bodies/grazed and retraced./ I will rest in the quarter moon/fragrant of oleander and bouganville/(…) Every now and then I will peep to be sure to be doped up / under a scented full moon/on incense and lotus/…
She went on repeating those lines looking for that something which had led him “to recognize her” at last; him in whose presence she felt herself, him with his family style, his clean speech, his innocent blue eyes. A verb gave her a sense of vertigo, an image of an indefinite sensuality,
It will be enough for me to see/ your blue shirt hanging/ in thoughts grown up/ with tides./ Dams will nor resist/either indifference or numbness ;I’ll overflow from all my cardinal points/safe from any possible catastrophe/ of habit – I’ll overflow, I’ll overflow – she kept on repeating in a louder and louder voice, thinking to take possession of a secret, of a strip of that man’s soul, already grazed over twenty years before.
Francesca felt inadequate to that inaccessible dream grown up in the years and kept in her soul’s recesses. During exams she had got intimidated in front of that white haired man and the results had been poor. It was Francesca’s fault, she struggled to bring out those vague insights, that sensitivity which led her to pick up imperceptible lights in the things she studied.
It was Francesca’s fault if she couldn’t get involved, if she prevented the volcano, she knew she had inside, from smoking. What had actually happened, what so upsetting, on that Thursday? The telephone appointment with the professor had been made at 10 o’clock in his study. At last she would get a clean opinion on what she wrote and some practical advice to publish it.
She walked with him to his studio, “Well, you want an opinion on your poems, do you?” he said stretching his legs under Francesca’s chair.
“Yes, actually I do; I’ve been running after you for two years, but it seems to me I got nowhere”. After the reflection on the blue shirt, the professor holds the lady’s hand which stays at half-mast, 18th Century dama, in a strange minuet of sentences she skillfully worked around “I’m bothering you…, I’m harassing you…, if you don’t like I’ll take my hand from yours”.
And Francesca “Oh no, it’s a friendly hand that can’t be refused”. Then, to distract him and herself, she started telling him about her school year in a town in the province. It was as if the poet followed her speech by reading it from the very lips of Francesca who, her hand in his, now suspended in the air, now on the table, felt a bit embarrassed, and yet was at ease. On suddenly looking al the clock “It’s time for me to go home;” and he, taking her to the door, “Shall we meet again?” Francesca shook hands with him, sneaking out through the stairs of the University. The poet had told her he’d leave to the United States, for a conference, in a few days. The right time frame to let Francesca try to decipher herself.
On Friday she wrote in the afternoon
May everything happen in a dream/ lasting till boredom/ sheltered from the real flame,/ from the hours/ which no longer know how to get expected,/from the crumpled sentences/ of the gold which shines/ here in the heart./ That it was a dream/made up of calicanthus perfumes/facing without sure notice/ the brim of an awakening,/ was the last of the bets/ punctually renewed/ to free from the returns/loaded with the old things./ A dream lasts long silences,/startled of being unable/to mock the words./I am sitting in the middle of my dream/ waiting for myself/ in some event/ which might even have one minute/ to appear…
Rapturous days of writing followed- I’ll let events make me, as they come, she went on repeating in a low voice, distancing herself from her thoughts. Meanwhile she surrounded herself with pleasant things, but above all with words, in search for new meanings, never brought to light. Writing!
Lo! The sudden chance opened to Francesca’s life, to dig through her mind, to be her blood flow, a radioactive drug which offered her the chance, at last, to tell the tensions, the dreams, the desires of Francesca, a woman who in that special place, just writing, could become thin, almost transparent. Even when she thought she had nothing more to say, on a morning in the lukewarm sun, she found herself sitting at the desk.
The poem which didn’t want/ any more words/ hasn’t been able to keep promises made to silence./ It came out with the sun/which erased/ long rain fingers on the panes./It’s daytime already full of hours/ and the words – how many – are looking for an exit to look for you…
He, the professor, had shed, unaware, some light for her, fired a mechanism just waiting for activation; he, the hand which turns the key,
gives the rope and sets in motion, animates a being, educates it to that form of pure pleasure, of spiritual and physical well-being that writing gives.
What’s more, poetry as a genre, now written with greater and different awareness, gave itself to Francesca, to her life, like a precious gift that would help her to face her existential troubles –
How many years got away from myself alone?/A labyrinth of books filled with moving/ sofas, furniture, beds,/ changing clothes, coloring tablecloths .A never achieved tidying up in the overflowing shining/of starched dust./A malaise bred in silence by another malaise/ plunging its roots in the wall structures of the house;/it infiltrated from the pores of bricks and lime the water channels into the body’s dungeons.
They navigate the esophagus that contracts against the world,/the breasts dark spotted for a plate shine,/the muscle contractions suspended between mouth and heart./ Still pain gets/ this slow pilgrimage of unfortunate cells/ listened to.
The professor came back from America, but Francesca is interested in isolating from all else just the spell cast by that encounter.
That year she thought again of what was happening to her, of the difficult balances she was learning to maintain. At school she wrote –
Here from the garret/ in the pigeon’s long loving invitation,/ the minutes compliantly adjust,/ to the magpie’s flight/to the gull’s uncertainty/ on the chimney./I’ll learn how to disorganize life/in the codified half order of laws of tenderness/ which no more taste like the absolute/ or like the essential/( a leaf relieved of the weight of safe designs/ of happiness of renounce)
Francesca is still writing.