Monday, May 27, 2013

My LIfe in Ostia


                             The meaning that has been received 
                      can be proved true by each man only 
                      in the singleness of his being and 
                      the singleness of his life.
                                                    —Martin Buber
                                                       I and Thou


The Old Realism, the New Realism—
the essentials of a flattened Italy
in an almost documentary style,
no superhero on the mud roads lined
with wooden shanties,
nothing to rescue here that hasn't been rescued,
the war ended, as all wars do,
a representation, I suppose, to startle
the merchant when he
suddenly looks down at his feet
and realizes he has no shoes.

Is there anything secure?
The privilege of thinking, says Pasolini,
on his half hour ride to work from San Lorenzo
to the Capannelle, 
from the Capannelle to the airport,
and Buber, who is standing
on the same train, not necessarily going
to work but slipping past the authorities
who are always out to reconquer the unconquered:
"Feelings are 'within,'" he mumbles,  
"where life is lived and man recovers 
from institutions."

And I, too, am recovering
on this day off, when the sun
blazes deceptively outside
in twenty-degree weather . . .
there is no after-war here, or perhaps
everything is after-war, time is measured
in conflict, or not measured at all
but passes like Buber through the unguarded
gate, where the officer in charge
has gone to a whorehouse instead of his post.

"The present is not fugitive and transient,
but continually present and enduring . . . 
the eternal middle of the way. . . ,"
he murmurs. 

as are the streets, succulent under 
the Italian pavement,
the Italian peninsula
where the history of mankind blossomed,
where the history of my people faltered,
where the swan bore not
Agamemnon and the Trojan War
but Pasolini and the street urchins
he must have seduced after he posed with them
in the slums—hardly the slums
but what was left of the Christian era
that had marked everything for destruction
and was itself destroyed.

Irrelevant, a toy,
a man embodying the intolerable,
the hardly acceptable . . . expelled 
from the Party for his un-Catholic behavior . . .
"That light was the light for justice,"
he pleaded. 
"I don't know which justice.
All light is equal to all other light . . ."  

The Crown comic book I fasten to the wall, 
an icon from '46, a year after the war,
when Pasolini was sloshing 
through a morning, the young boys 
hovering around him. . . 
when he succumbed to poetry
in that excavation called Italy,
on the south end of the Alps
where I ate pizza once,
where I drank coffee and brandy from a crock
with eight spouts,
where a requiem to a past, 
as alien to me as a centipede,
dislodged the pebbles and 
made it difficult to walk.

Can I find him among the rubble?
Am I destined to wonder like Pasolini
over the dark boulevards,
the "Caravaggio colonnades of dust,"
near where the young boys hang out,
where the hookers
lure the proletariat into moral declension
so they stuff garters or flowers
between the pages of Das Kapital
the way girls used to in Bibles
when they were virginal
and erotically curved?

This open city, this open world,
the cause and effect that never release
me from futility,
neither victim nor predator
but lost in innocence,
tapping through the darkness of old Italy,
a poignant moment when revealing
my affliction, my endurance,
what is part of me, 
what was part of him,
confusion, weaknesses,
everything brought to its knees,
to the ground,
when we need to be standing,
Pasolini in the mud, 
where he was murdered,
beaten to a pulp,
I in Montclair, New Jersey,
where history doesn't seem to intrude
but sits under the colonials like granite,
supporting and ignoring them,
waiting.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Portrait Through Paintings


Radishes and green peppers and goldenrod
rendered precisely, so each petal is edible
and the image is sort of a salad on a wheelbarrow
in which the artist
indulges herself or is suggesting that
nature arranged geometrically in a garden
is worth contemplation by the sheer abundance
of detail, 
                 or a self-portrait with rectilinear cheeks
and a glass jaw that has never been broken but hangs
not defiantly but with a see-through
assurance that here is its proper wall and though
the fixtures circulate in numerous directions
and he is not unwilling to cooperate to the point
of effacement, for the moment everything
is aboveboard and fathomable, and for that
he is thankful.
                           Or the elongated etching
with brown water and unemotional stones
that neither denies nor asserts nor devotes itself
to an expenditure of necessity
but hangs inaudibly like a cocktail dress
that was displayed, admired, and forgotten. 

The landscape is immaculate, as are the 
people who were pasted up in a priori positions—
as if to investigate their employment were a kind
of heathen activity that preordained
them to dysfunction. Not inaccurate,
for their limbs are set at correct angles and each
is identifiable in his function, yet
lacking in organs that make even the simplest
of outlines a human commitment. 
                                                               Or the office interior
with classical corners and starched woodwork where
the blue-suited executive ponders his budget,
his hands raw with exclusion, his eyes rampant,
as he scuffles internally to stand still.