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FOR A POETRY OF LIBERATION? PINA PICCOLO – 13 POEMS

Pina Piccolo, a poet, teacher and translator, raised in Italy and Berkeley, California, and now living in Italy, is one of the principal coordinators and originators of La macchina sognante and more recently The Dreaming Machine

“Though the body may burn

The voice lingers on…”

 

Pina Piccolo, a poet, teacher and translator, raised in Italy and Berkeley, California, and now living in Italy, is one of the principal coordinators and originators of La macchina sognante and more recently The Dreaming Machine.  She is also the author of ‘I canti dell’interregno’ recently published in Italy…

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Here are Pina Piccolo’s passionate poems with their work of words helping us to see our enormous and often-beautiful ugly-old-world take its place on the breadline, crash land on battlefields whose few survivors have up to now been silenced, stand witness to the unspoken tragedies our business-as-usual world turns its face from and start to wake-the-fuck-up, picking its lessons from the trash heap of contemporary calamity carefully and with a heart that finds everywhere a voice that could somehow somewhere sometime redeem our careless commodity-littered circus of a life…

 

…here are words and ideas twisted together pointing in the direction of a life struggling like lilacs to rise up out of a dead land, whether in the shape of great singers or murdered emigrants… As if it was not long past the time that someone freed poetry from its domesticated and academic prisons or even from its illusion in too many places we hide from the real world in – of safety, of so-called sanity, of a reason that explains everything but understands nothing….

 

Of course, not just poetry but every human endeavour should seek to rise from this abyss of one-dimensional conformity and deference to the status quo and an unspoken deference to power (whether of wealth, or politics, or just plain ignorance)…

 

Surely this desire and the effort to create a culture of liberation has been attempted time after time and probably will be for all time…and here is the proof…words, if not yet the humans who arrogantly believe they have domesticated them, can rise up from the depths of the comatose and travel among the wounded and the unspeakable and the oppressed bringing the secret of fire stolen and rebellion provoked to those who had almost given up hope…

 

As if in reply to Theodor Adorno’s:

 

The more total society becomes, the greater the reification of the mind and the more paradoxical its effort to escape reification on its own. Even the most extreme consciousness of doom threatens to degenerate into idle chatter. Cultural criticism finds itself faced with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today. Absolute reification, which presupposed intellectual progress as one of its elements, is now preparing to absorb the mind entirely. Critical intelligence cannot be equal to this challenge as long as it confines itself to self-satisfied contemplation. (1949 essay, “Cultural Criticism and Society,” reprinted as the first essay in  Prisms, 34)

 

…Paul Celan, one of too many poets who sleep at the bottom of a river after trying to wake from an indescribable depth of darkness and loss said:

 

Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could resurface, ‘enriched’ by it all.” (Wikipedia)

 

I was uplifted to have these words summon me from my own half-comfortable sleep, pierce armour, actually touch nerves and shake bones, all in the way  of hearing their accusations, and their complaints with a voice no longer willing to be driven half mad by the cruelty of this world that pisses each day on each and every promise that life offers…

 

…Life! Now we have a chance to hear a voice raised in protest and these voices of the dead preserved in song and in this wonderful dance of words…

 

In a world where culture has become just another cut-price commodity is this not a grand thing…a work in progress…in the midst of so much death and the restless dead..?

 

Life springs from the silence and upon its resurrection we know it might be good to be alive, at the heart of this war being waged against us all, if only, let’s admit it, for a few ungraceful moments…

 

Read on…

 

FROM AVATARS IN THE INTERREGNUM – 13 Poems by Pina Piccolo

 

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear. (Antonio Gramsci)

 

In praise of wounded water bearers

 

Meeting prayers with grenades
on a North Dakota bridge
over water rumbled
by a greedy oil snake
feasting on a 21 year old girl’s arm.

And now the flesh
the stunned veins
the exuberant nerves
that once held
bottles of water
to quench a thirst
that knows no end
can no longer bridge
thought and action.

Downstream they float
buoyed by the molecules of life
singing them a song
of the Spirit
flowing as they have
since the first day of Creation.

Don’t go seeking balms in Gilead
the shrapnel of wars past and present
jabbing and scarring
the lethargy of a decrepit order
as the earth deploys her children
of this seventh generation
to regain her breath and song.

 

Clutching at life

 

When the alleged dead shall rise
to haunt us in the deep of night
with their lungs

gasping for air
their eyes full of horror
clutching at life
as it gallops away,
shall we beg them
to quietly return
to their alleged heavens
and hells
and leave us
in our earthly limbo,
our foreheads bleeding
from the thorns
scratching our conscience
that no balm can ever assuage?

 

For Aleppo

 

April is the cruelest month of all

said the crow

as she sat in mourning

near the crumbled wall

where they had removed

ten tender bodies

next to the last pediatrician

who wouldn’t leave the city.

 

In the olden days

there had been a port

near those very same walls

where Jonah had been dragged

by an obstinate old whale

who wouldn’t let him

escape the gift of prophecy.

 

Can’t turn your face away

from the evil that was wrought

upon your fellow beings

on the land, the air and the sea.

 

Can’t turn away

cried the crow

as she pecked at the salt

of indifference and deception

to make its gullet

turn it into tears.

 

Because We Were People of No Consequence

For the people of “no consequence” of Baga and elsewhere

 

neither cartoonists nor gods

ever bothered to choose us.

No Holy Book ever extolled us

no Funnies ever besmirched us.

Our Plagues were not worthy

of newspapers nor literature.

We had no Tuileries nor Towers.

Our “gendarmes” were an international force

only because we were remembered

at appropriate times.

 

We had no heroic squads of firefighters.

We had to put out our flames

with our own leaky buckets

drawing water from a drying out lake.

Yes, the unmentionable

Body of Water of No International Consequence

enjoying extensive reportage on National Geographic

whose edges were shrinking

and yielded fewer fish.

So many of us,

the fortunate ones,

left ten years ago

to wait for the fish to take bait

or be dragged in the nets

elsewhere, in other shores.

 

They, the lucky ones,

picked up and went

on their own sturdy legs.

Some may have got caught

in the malevolent winds of history

their patched up sails

unworthy of/unfit for navigation.

But, we the stationary ones,

stayed there to withstand other Plagues

born in the Laboratories of Power

born in the Halls of Economics and Politics.

Our bodies now “litter” the streets

un-artfully strewn

for the photographer’s lens to catch

for the satellite’s distant eye to probe.

No dignity or privacy accorded to us

whether we be 150 or 2000

a herd

of People of No Consequence

forever leveling our accusation

to faraway stars.

 

Confession of the Abiku Who Refused to Land in Lampedusa

 

No, it wasn’t the despicable Laws of Men

that sank the boat

with its fiery blanket of a sail

completing a Middle Passage

of escape and sorrow.

 

No, it wasn’t the fear sculpted in the eyes

of fishing boats passing-by

that dared not stop

lest they be brought in front of the Grand Jury

Of the Law of Mind Your Own Business

and be deemed an accessory

to the crime of Attempted Survival.

 

Nor was the commotion caused by

Continental Drift

the Tectonic Plate of Africa

colliding with that tiny crumb of Europe

Lampedusa

As it sat there with its jails and beaches

waiting for whatever the currents brought

be it corpse or be it tourist.

 

No, friends, don’t go looking into Economics, Political Science,

History and International Law,

I am the responsible party.

 

I, just a tiny Abiku.

A spirit child

one of the indecisive ones

forever moving between the world of the living

and the spirit world

“unwilling to come to terms with life”.

 

Police Captain Renato Sollustri,

in its full scuba diving gear

scarier to behold than an alien

sent by the State to recover the bodies

though European, saw me and knew who I was

has been speechless now for two days.

 

Still dangling from my mother’s umbilical cord

I wasn’t going to trade the sweet water of the womb

for the harsh air and the work of lungs

and the work of muscles and the salt of tears.

At the most I would trade amniotic fluid

for the bitter water of the Mediterranean sea.

And to hell with the hopes

and illusions and ambitions and demands

and fears and reproaches and claims of the others.

 

African novelists have described us abiku as:

“Dislike(ing) the rigours of existence, the unfulfilled longings,

the enshrined injustices of the world, the labyrinths of love..

..Fear(ing)  the heartlessness of human beings,

all of whom are born blind,

few of whom ever learn to see”.

And so I chose sea over land

water over fire.

Refused that encrusted rock jutting from the waves

and now live in every drop of rain

in every tear shed over the malice of Humans

and their terrible deeds and omissions.

 

NOTES:

Police Captain Renato Sollustri: A few days after the mass drowning of migrants/refugees close to the shores of Lampedusa, Police Captain Renato Sollustri of the scuba diving police unit, who dove to retrieve the bodies, found under the capsized boat the body of a girl who had given birth just before drowning, the umbilical cord and the baby still attached to her body.  October 10, 2013.

 

African novelists have described us abiku…” See: Ben Okri “The Famished Road”, Chapter 1.

 

For Mahmoud Darwish, Whispering His Soul Over Gaza

 

You were taken by a merciful death, Mahmoud,

lest phosphorous devour your heart.

A chorus of stones answered

as the Strip lay awash in wrath

and a swallow looked and wept

as the bricks came unwrapped.

And the song of ages drowned

the knocks of unmanned flight

as a tribe of pigeons cooed

a lone baby to sleep

through the night.

And the ghosts of the olive groves

bereft of their poet

sang the Buraq back to life.

 

When A Man Will Not Go Gentle…

for Shaka Sankofa, on June 22, 2000, the night of his execution

 

When a man refuses to go gentle

into “that good night”

what does his first walk

freed of the body

look like?

 

Not the spasmodic dance of resistance

nor the gliding step of angels.

Yet, the shadow of the black man

does walk the Earth tonight

not a deadman walking-

that would not be his style.

 

Wrapped in a mantle of light.

unshackled now he sets off,

after a hasty dispatch

by a slithery Governor

slinking his way to the crown.

 

Unfettered, finally now

in this season

when the night does not wed the day

in peerdom,

when a solsticed sun shrinks

the night into a corner

with the piercing light

of an overextended day

he, cocky young robber of liquor stores,

ambushed

by a decrepit

robber of lives

crouched on a high throne

with feet of clay.

 

The shadow of the black man

haunts the corridors of power tonight

taunts them with the noose

wrapped around the neck

of a strange fruit of memory.

 

Or maybe his gait

resembles that of

a fly on the wall

witnessing

dirty laundry

blanched to pure white

by the Word of politicians

spoken, inked or etherized.

Justice, licking its wounds

in  a D-list dive.

Nature fleeing the arachno-goat

just to stare in the face

of the defiant scapegoat

the black goat.

 

Maybe he struts now, light-gaited

on the familiar path

of a Chicago high security tenement

that tames black cubs

into subservient adulthood.

 

Lighter than air now

he ascends the four mile

of low income high rises

separated by a freeway,

separated by chain-link

fencing off magnolias

from plantations.

 

Nineteen years of confinement

erased

by single stroke of a needle.

You learn, in a single night,

what they kept from you

from birth.

 

Don’t let that weight

plunge you down, ungentle walker

lend us the cockiness in your step

turn us from mere witnesses

into walkers of the talk.

 

Note:

Shaka Sankofa was the Swahili name chosen by Gary Graham, the 36 year old African American man who was executed on December 22 2000, in the state of Texas, after spending 19 years on death row. The name Shaka refers to the famous warrior Shaka Zulu and Sankofa means “go back to past and bring to the present”. His execution order was signed by George W. Bush, then Governor of Texas, one month prior to his becoming president of the USA. Shaka, maintained his innocence to the very end and fiercely resisted being taken into the execution chamber. He had been active for nearly two decades in the movements opposing the death penalty and to secure better opportunities for black youth.

 

Their Screams Live in My Ear

 

Sixty years later, he said:

“Then I was the foolish young soldier

who two days after the atomic bomb

on August 8, 1945

tried to pick up the shadow

of the girl

embossed

on the sidewalk.”

 

Meekly he continued to say it,

gentle old Japanese man,

no longer a soldier

so around the world

people wouldn’t cover their ears

at the screams

of two Iraqi sisters

fifteen and sixteen

(never knew their names

newspapers never bothered)

slaughtered

by soldiers

who saw a branch move

in the woods

as the girls picked kindle

to warm up the hearth

in the coldest December in

fifty years.

 

“Their screams live in my ears”

wailing over

top volume rock

“We are the champions”

(Master of space, soon to be

Lords of the universe)

issuing from a depleted uranium

shielded tank

as it blindly trumpets its way

through the streets of Falluja.

 

Their screams live in my ear.

Never sleep.

Don’t ever nestle comfortably

in the crook of my ear

and resignedly whisper.

Raw, like the first day,

they roar

to be heard.

Angry, unforgiving.

Surprised and aghast.

 

Nemrut Dagi

For the 37 secular writers burned alive in Sivas, Turkey,

on July 3, 1993 in a fire set by Muslim fundamentalists

 

Silver fox

stealing the rays of the moon,

thieving in the foothills of Asia Minor.

Above you, Nemrut Dagi

grave of satraps and Commagene kings

whipped by the wind,

bitten by time.

Heads of gods

fallen

at the feet

of enthroned bodies

staring with stony eyes

at the undecipherable deeds

of the living,

down below,

in the valley.

 

In the crevice of a God’s mouth

a buttercup

nurses the bitter milk of history.

Inside a tin shack,

below the lineup of gods

dark men are boiling chai,

in the shadow of the King.

Kurdish women are up

baking the loaves of hospitality.

 

Silver fox,

accomplice to the Sun,

aiding and abetting

in the daily ritual of displacement

won’t you run to Sivas and steal the dark heart

of men who punish by fire,

who turn the silvery trail of possibilities

secreted by the pen

into

a testimony of ashes?

 

Silver fox

secret friend to

ghosts of times gone by,

chasing the moon

on the plains of Anatolia…

 

Though the body may burn

the voice lingers on.

The wind,

grandmother of voices,

sister to the word,

carries the sounds

mouths can no longer speak.

You deliver them to the world,

silver fox

on your run

chasing away the moon.

Greeting the new day.

 

Note:

Nemrut Dagi in southeastern Turkey is a mountain and archaeological site notable for the vast statues dating to 62 BC. The 9-meter statues were part of worship site and tomb of the Commagene King Antiochus I. The monumental complex at the summit of the mountain includes a row of stone kings and gods whose heads have fallen to the ground and lay scattered about. The site is usually visited either at dawn or sunset. Silver colored foxes have been spotted in the vicinity.

 

Steel Belly

 

Don’t make words come out of my mouth.

Let the device detonate inside:

No external harm

no explosion heard

no disturbance made.

Day after day your powerlessness grows

to fill up your steel belly.

Stretched out like a drum

pregnant with no recourse.

You feed it health foods

and drink no wine

so no one will call you

negligent mother.

And it grows

it grows from within

until your eyes cannot see

your ears cannot ear

your skin cannot feel

and you implode,

sweet woman,

without making a sound.

Your limbs scattered about

unsightly mess

to be promptly cleared out

by the handmaidens of womanhood.

 

Reverence for Silence

 

Quit filling the silence

with spilt syllables,

like you pile up

splintered movement

into empty space,

just to make people laugh.

 

Even on the phone

silence is sacred.

Quit throwing rocks

into it.

 

Thy Father’s Broken English

 

“On my second day of work Cugino don’t come

with me, so when the bus stoppe at the terminale I don’t know

how to get to da fahtory. I don’t speak English, not a word,

and can’t ask the bus driva.

 

All I rememba is da  little round hille. coming out of nowhere,

you know, El Cerrito.

So I walk all the way to the top,

then all the way down, and say to myself

Caru Gianni eccuti in mezzu a sti sipali

(Dear Gianni, here you are in the sticks).

Scordatu e sconosciutu

(forsaken and a stranger).

Comu fazzu a trovari a strata?

(How can I find the way)?”

Lady, lady, wheresa Jacuzzi, fattoria Jacuzzi

Ah, by da wata, no by mountain – thank you, thank you!

So I get there three hours late, and hear the paesani laugh at me

‘cause I’m no good at cutting pipes..

John, they call me. Gianni is too hard.”

 

The man who loved luvare, olive groves

the best olive crop assessor in the county,

people would beg him to estimate how many sarme their trees

could bear so the middle men wouldn’t cheat them.

Begged him to please come and show them

how to do graftings, innesti.

During the war

he improvised as a butcher

as a black marketeer of olive oil

rode the rooftops of trains directed to Naples

(Nearly smashed his head as they approached a tunnel).

Even explored the pampas in search for a better life.

He still remembered the poems they taught him in 3rd grade

and could tell the best Giufà stories

with an exquisite sense of timing.

 

This man who under “l’albero della scienza”,

the giant sycamore tree,

by his brother’s house, near the station, would meet

with l’omini  the men, to play cards

and talk philosophy: what is right

and what is wrong.

Debates went on for hours

leaving angry wives and untended  duties

in their wake.

This man

was now the laughingstock of the paesani e di mericani

‘cause he couldn’t speak good English

nor could he hold the cutters properly.

 

Over nine years he learned

how to take the Greyhound

how to line up the pipes perfectly.

 

Kids still mocked his broken English.

One time his little girl drove

a bunch of jeering ones away

and he was grateful.

 

Then she grew up to be embarrassed

of his old age, his darkness

eyes bloodshot from malaria

country ways.

 

His feeble attempts

to enforce the Patriarchy

in a house full of strong women

were doomed to fail.

 

Decades later when a branch

he had yanked down with his cane to pick a fig

ricocheted, tore his eye

that same daughter didn’t deem it

important enough to go

to the hospital.

 

But her two year old Danish/Italian/American child

at least learned to say nonno and bastone.

 

When the blood in his veins

wouldn’t carry oxygen any more

and he lay there spent, like a withering olive branch

embarrassed because he needed to be helped to the bathroom

to distract him she thought no better

than to talk to him about her latest political endeavor.

 

His parting question:

“What do I care about that?”

befitting a lack of communication

that lasted forty year.

 

Papà

our spirits travel now through different planes

at long, way belated, last

I ask you your benedizione,

just like you asked your own mother

on that Christmas card you sent her in Calabria

from the California in 1953.

She kept it for twenty years

I found it one of those interminable summer vacations

filled with pasta e vajianedda

swims at the Tonnara

arguments with cousins.

 

It lay in her bottom drawer,

with the important papers.

She, who never went to school

couldn’t read it.

 

But when she received it

she knew immediately what was asked of her

didn’t worry about deciphering

chicken scratches on paper.

Papà, she granted you benedizione

no questions asked.

 

Observing the wiseman who sits by the road considering the changing of the wheel

 

A wise man of the theater

once sat pensively

by the side of the road,

considering the changing of the wheel:

a round tool

that could spin on itself,

could go backwards or forwards,

even up and down,

like the pulley at the well.

 

He sat there wondering

about his own direction.

Now that the wheel

has reached its fifth dimension,

going up in the planets,

down in the abyss,

bearing holes through time

elliptically, like a drill,

now that it pulsates

at the heart of the information machine,

what does direction mean?

 

Instead of sitting by the side of the road,

we blindly walk the tightrope on the brink,

carrying the carcass of history on our back.

 

Pina Piccolo

 

Global Rights – Culture of Liberation

 

 

Image:

By Pina Piccolo @ Facebook

 

I canti dell’interregno

https://www.ibs.it/canti-dell-interregno-libro-pina-piccolo/e/9788899599072

https://www.carmillaonline.com/2018/06/16/i-canti-dellinterregno-un-ritornello/

https://metsambiase.wordpress.com/2018/02/20/i-canti-dellinterregno-recensione-del-nuovo-libro-di-pina-piccolo-da-cinquecolonne-it/

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