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…
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…
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 leave us
in our earthly limbo,
our foreheads bleeding
from the thorns
scratching our conscience
that no balm can ever assuage?
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
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
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
the Tectonic Plate of Africa
colliding with that tiny crumb of Europe
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
Nineteen years of confinement
by single stroke of a needle.
You learn, in a single night,
what they kept from you
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.
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
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)
who saw a branch move
in the woods
as the girls picked kindle
to warm up the hearth
in the coldest December in
“Their screams live in my ears”
top volume rock
“We are the champions”
(Master of space, soon to be
Lords of the universe)
issuing from a depleted uranium
as it blindly trumpets its way
through the streets of Falluja.
Their screams live in my ear.
Don’t ever nestle comfortably
in the crook of my ear
and resignedly whisper.
Raw, like the first day,
to be heard.
Surprised and aghast.
For the 37 secular writers burned alive in Sivas, Turkey,
on July 3, 1993 in a fire set by Muslim fundamentalists
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
at the feet
of enthroned bodies
staring with stony eyes
at the undecipherable deeds
of the living,
in the valley.
In the crevice of a God’s mouth
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.
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
a testimony of ashes?
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.
grandmother of voices,
sister to the word,
carries the sounds
mouths can no longer speak.
You deliver them to the world,
on your run
chasing away the moon.
Greeting the new day.
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.
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
And it grows
it grows from within
until your eyes cannot see
your ears cannot ear
your skin cannot feel
and you implode,
without making a sound.
Your limbs scattered about
to be promptly cleared out
by the handmaidens of womanhood.
Reverence for Silence
Quit filling the silence
with spilt syllables,
like you pile up
into empty space,
just to make people laugh.
Even on the phone
silence is sacred.
Quit throwing rocks
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.
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
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.
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.
By Pina Piccolo @ Facebook
“I canti dell’interregno”