The Poetry Kit
For the Talking Statues
Freedom of speech was not encouraged in Papal Rome, so an outspoken cobbler called Pasquino wrote his satirical comments and attached them to a rough chunk of marble near his shop. The statue, all that remained of a Hellenistic group, had been used as a stepping stone in a muddy medieval street until 1501. Other statues in Rome started to talk, and to conduct dialogues with Pasquino, as the statue came to be called - Marforio in Via del Campidoglio and the Babuino
in Via del Babuino.
Taken from ROME – An Eyewitness Travel Guide.
Roma, you are cruel to your people.
But you have suffered us television.
Those of us with roofs and aerials
The senzatetto, those without roofs,
the homeless, do without.
The Museo D'Arte Contemporanea Roma
used to be a slaughterhouse. An abbatoirs.
A freezing works. To use my home word –
the meat was frozen to send to England
by the freezing workers.
And the Colosseo was an abbatoirs,
This is a country that loves beauty.
The people make beauty out of poverty.
They make beauty out of poverty and out of
excess and luxury and Show Of Power.
And caprice, and itch, and ... something else.
Witness – Cinque Terre and the Canale Grande.
San Marco – like a grandmother's quilt.
But it works. It is beautiful. Don't say to me –
They had to build on a cliff above the sea
so thus, the houses tumble down like ... like ...
Or – Their territory was a malarial swamp
to which they had been driven by stronger,
crueler tribes – so, lo, palazzi!
And – They loved God so longed to give God ...
In San Marco I fall silent. And weep.
I have seen places built out of exigency
and they look like shite.
I have seen places built to impress
and they are a waste of cash.
I say again – These are tribes who love beauty.
The tribes who live in this country love beauty.
And make beauty. Out of anything. And everything.
He is a Stop Press photo on the front page
of the Herald Tribune, smiling, as the Polizia,
in bulletproof vests and black balaclavas,
hustle him away from forty years of living
off the map and under the radar.
He was run to earth near Corleone.
His wife sent him a parcel of clean laundry,
all a wife should be, and some chap shouted
– Follow those clean shirts!
I remember approaching Corleone in 2002.
Taking Corleone as my Destination
I tried Destinations In And Around.
I had used this feature before and some
flyspeck on the map, say Ekatahuna
or Koo Wee Rup, had something!
A B&B, a nine hole golf course,
a badly scanned pic on a tip by a member
who has not signed on again since 1993.
A restaurant, a tour guide, a blog.
Baghdad has bloggers. To much effect.
But Corleone was completely off the map
and under the radar. I really wanted to go
to Corleone. But I was way too scared.
(Ekatahuna has wonderful meat pies
and Koo Wee Rup, asparagus.)
My Tabacchi man has a temper.
I saw that when I asked for
– Un francobollo per Australia
and got that. Just that. One stamp.
In spite of the fact you need at least
two sixty cent stamps. At least.
When I got antsy about my letters
gone astray he got cranky.
I had stood on the step of 259 Viale di Trastavere
as jetlagged as an Australian who has flown away
waiting for the portiere to show, subito, soon.
And saw a shuffling, downward looking woman
full of woe, carrying newspapers from a van,
thought – I will know these people soon. Subito.
She is the wife of my Tabbacchi man.
Silent and downward looking when I ask for
– Marlborough rosso and un biglietto, per favore.
One day I saw that she had a black eye,
a real shiner. A proper biffo.
She looked down even more, if that is possible,
and he appeared behind her shoulder
with that bright and ingenuous innocent look.
She had said something really stupid.
Like - What do you want for dinner tonight?
The bells are ringing in the middle of the night.
'On the third day He rose from the dead.'
The bells are calling us to Midnight Mass.
Death Cab For Cutie sings Crooked Teeth
on the bad music channel. And oddly, there
are no ambulances racing up the tram tracks
towards Ospedale Nuovo Regina Margherita.
Re the bells at quarter to, it seems it takes us
15 minutes to walk to our local. Or it used to.
The bells are going demented. 2 minutes to 12.
Hurry along, folks. Stupid Girls by Pink on TV.
1 minute to midnight and the ambulances
and the Vigili del Fuoco join in. Sirens! Bells!
Enough is as good as a feast.
Christ has risen. Time for a bit of peace.
I've gone for what they call the full immersion
into the language.
And I'm drowning.
If I find someone
who can talk English
I talk Rubbish.
That is what will give you
the taste, the tasty taste,
the salt and sugar, the lilt and swing
of the other. I know you can read.
It is plain ridiculous to see Italian
issuing out of Puff Daddy's mouth.
I am learning the weather in Roma.
In The city one intuits weather
by the sheets on the washing line on an upper floor
no longer flying in the wind.
New weather coming in.
The oppressive clouds
will announce their intentions
soon – subito.
And my seasons have been watching my internet
fail. From high tide and hope and a proprietess
who cared enough
to fight with the gentili clienti about the floods of
exactly how much doona can be stuffed into a
to a new scheme for American Students in Roma.
As if we don't
have enough of them already! During the reduced
hours she plans
riches, doesn't look up as the clientele migrate
from pc to pc
stabbing and jabbing and shouting - Dio! All the
are heir to. Screen freeze. Slooooooownesssssss.
The flocks of customers peck and jabber, whirl -
rise and fly away.
What are the chances! That I am in Rome, that
my sister is in Rome,
that Italia plays Francia in the World Cup Final.
We are standing
in Circo Massimo with the right flag, but I find I
am not quite ready
to cheer for Italia. I wave the flag but it is not in
my heart to be glad.
My sister notices a complete lack of eskies
stuffed with tinnies.
I notice I am standing on a primeval ground,
a place of contest,
of blood, of the blood of the few. It is so apt
I pick a team.
When Zidane gives Materazzi a French kiss
I shout - Espulso!
And the dogs bring their people down from the
apartments and laugh
to see the pretty girls dancing out of the sunroofs
of the little cars
and the trumpets sound and the flags flourish and
the motorini fly.
Italia triumphs. The shirtless raggazi cling to the
The pronto soccorso will be busy tonight, we are
Siamo campioni del mondo! Nessum dorma!
No one sleeps!
The woman and her son seem to be life sized.
The building seems designed to overpower.
Her son on her lap seems to be dead.
I suppose that is the point. He has to
A forensic scientist would probably know
how many hours have elapsed, in that climate,
in that year,
before the body would be in that condition,
for the hinder leg to lift off her lap.
After the Cross.
But you don't understand - she said.
Rome can absorb anything.
These gods. Those gods. This god.
And what about no god? - I asked.
Oh yes - she said. Rome can take that
and turn it to nothing. And now - she said
I have reached the end of my language.
Oh yes - I said. I know what that feels like.
You stand on the edge of the abyss and can't fall.
I am sitting at home in Wingello
listening to the same pop hits
on the radio that I heard in Rome.
O bird of time!