by Franca Mancinelli
—translated from the Italian by John Taylor
Building meaning forms a force field held together by love. Unaware, we inhabit it, like figures in an ancient painting. Your mother’s wedding dress, grandparents’ overcoats, and other fabrics you can’t touch. Here you could find your clothes: those in which they admired you for the first time at the hospital, those in which they will again love you in a circle, placing in turn their lips on your forehead, their hand on your hand. * But now you must force yourself to go through the satin and felt curtain, to feel the back wall and the corners, while looking for the pole. You’ve gripped it; by pointing it into the ceiling, in the center of the square hatch, you will see that it opens and that a ladder is slowly released. You climb up to the threshold, just to see the Christmas tree covered with a cloth, the empty or dull-sounding suitcases of plastic men and animals who have escaped the flood. You go back down, close the hatch. It’s the space you light up when you turn on the wrong switch. * A mattress on the floor of a shared room. A few degrees of fever to stay in bed like most evenings back then—I was reading. The pleasure of words was settling and spreading in my body, running through it like another blood vessel system. Nearby, a lamp for which I had to buy a new lightbulb—days were going by when I didn’t have the strength or the memory to do so: the mind patches things up, finds a handful of stillness, like dust falling. Evening was coming in through the window. Trusting the naturalness of a gesture, I press the button on the lamp several times. All of a sudden, the whole room lights up. On the threshold, my roommate, next to the light switch. * So many veins that no one caresses. The stone is so alone that the pain could crack it. This is why I remain close to it. Crawling, I follow tracks, very ancient signs. * The sea was what you were saying it was. —Where the water became deep, you began to hear the slow thud of a pachyderm, gray like yesterday’s rain. “Here’s its tusk,” you said, bringing back a long curved branch from the rocks and lifting it onto your face so you would be recognized. “Do I look changed?” you asked after a brief undertow. It was the sea that raised the question, you just followed it, entering its force. * “Hasn’t it stopped raining?” she asks, coming to meet me. We are in the well-lit corridor, between the waiting room and the room where I search for words while she remains behind me, silent, like an umbrella that cannot shelter me. And perhaps all that she has given me in these years of trains and car trips to reach her is the mild awareness with which I accept the rain, which never stops falling, which is still so thick. It is streaming down in the streets where I have walked, drenching my shoes, with my soles slipping, with the thought of taking refuge at the next turn. —Of this pounding, only a muffled cadence in the room where she listens to my halting phrases, the downpour of tears. Others have raincoats and boots. Others are safe, beyond the age when everything can fall in an unexpected cloudburst. You are outdoors where it rages. You have slipped. —She is transcribing the rain’s tale: she continues to collect the signs. * Little bread girl. The ants climb up your body and the little birds can peck you like an abandoned piece of fruit. When you sense you’re good for someone, you don’t worry about vanishing for a while to feed him. From the darkness among the trees, every now and then a beast sticks out its bright muzzle—you will bear the intermittent imprint of its teeth on your skin, the mark of a stolen diamond. You realize too late that you are still alive: when big tears run down your face, migrating towards the clear sky, where the traces of your brief death fade away. * Kittens that have lost their mother have closed eyes. They seem sick. They crouch in a corner, waiting for it to pass. Or for the return—of her warmth, her fragrant tongue on their muzzle. One morning, in the underground passage of the train station, there was one of them, sheltered in the gap between the wall and the stairs. The sealed eyelids still seemed to sense images. A little lukewarm water like saliva was enough to free them. Note: The original Italian sequence was published, in a slightly different version, in the “poiein” section, edited by Franco Buffoni, of Trame di letterature comparate (University of Cassino, Volume V, No. 5, 2021).
Franca Mancinelli was born in Fano, Italy, in 1981. Her first two collections of verse poetry, Mala kruna (2007) and Pasta madre (2013), were awarded several prizes in Italy and later republished together as A un’ora di sonno da qui (2018)—a book now available in John Taylor’s English translation as At an Hour’s Sleep from Here (The Bitter Oleander Press, 2019). In 2018 also appeared her collection of prose poems, Libretto di transito, also published by The Bitter Oleander Press as The Little Book of Passage. Her latest book available in English is the bilingual volume The Butterfly Cemetery: Selected Prose 2008-2021 (The Bitter Oleander Press, 2022), which comprises texts also published in Italian for the first time. Her most recent Italian collection of poetry and poetic prose, Tutti gli occhi che ho aperto [All the Eyes that I Have Opened], won the Europa in Versi Prize in 2022.
John Taylor is an American writer, critic, and translator who lives in France. Among his many translations of Modern Greek, Italian, and French poetry are books by Philippe Jaccottet, Jacques Dupin, Pierre Chappuis, Pierre-Albert Jourdan, José-Flore Tappy, Pierre Voélin, Georges Perros, Elias Papadimitrakopoulos, Lorenzo Calogero, and Alfredo de Palchi. His translations have been awarded grants and prizes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Academy of American Poets, Pro Helvetia, and the Sonia Raiziss Charitable Foundation. He is the author of several volumes of short prose and poetry, most recently Remembrance of Water & Twenty-Five Trees (The Bitter Oleander Press) and a “double book” co-authored with the Swiss poet Pierre Chappuis, A Notebook of Clouds & A Notebook of Ridges (The Fortnightly Review Press).