Caulonian Suite: III. Piazza della Carmine / The Two Times


PIAZZA DELLA CARMINE / THE TWO TIMES

AT 7:30 TONIGHT:

Unable to traverse the swallow’s path
Or tread roof tiles as the agile cat,
upon his brothers’ labouring backs
A polychrome Christ will make a rough pilgrimage of His own;
Pillar bound, to that church above from this one below.

Square-shouldered, tow-haired nine-year old will run and clap
His acolyte’s bell laughingly at black curls that lap
The tender nape of his fellow impenitent in Mary’s blue.
And so this honour guard will hew
four hundred years of progress’ path
Pelligrinago from first to last,
Across the stuck in stones.

AT 5:30 THIS AFTERNOON

Piazza della carmine is desirous of tumbling towards the sea.
Boys gyre round parked cars in this town the Greeks begot.
A truck full of music winds lamenting through the streets;
Calling forth ancient Eves to buy their compassionate widow’s tot
Of what, to Adam’s sweaty brow, this fallen earth bequeaths.

poem and photo copyright Bonnie McClellan 2011 all rights reserved

This poem is the third in a suite of poems written about 24 hours in Caulonia Superiore.

Caulonian Suite: II. Caulonia Supriore

As the end of March approaches, I think of southern Italy – Calabria – the tiny town of Caulonia Superiore where we spent the weeks leading up to Easter and watched it unfold around us.

Bonnie McClellan-Broussard

CAULONIA SUPERIORE

for Matthew

The sky roils;

swallows knit webbed gyres

among the baroque sag of rooftops.

Across the way they’re fixing one;

new russet barrel tiles sealed over

old timber bones.

I hear a sound like the pounding

Of a battering ram or the cleaving

Of an immense stump

Contrapunted with a loud HUP.

My daughter sleeps with the abandon

of an unfettered shutter swinging in a stiff wind.

A woman in her fifties climbs the stairs

to the house where she and my daughter

were both conceived.

We regard each other with

that part of the eye

which admits an alternate aim.

The pounding stops.

The church bells go off

with the percussive invective

of a fire alarm

DANGATIDANGATIDANGDANGDANG.

They say it’s peculiar to here:

someone sounds the bell

not with the pull of a knotted rope

but with the unlevered force of arms.

This is the…

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Caulonian Suite: I. Coppi in Cotto

Coppi in Cotto
Terracotta Roof Tiles with Lichen

Coppi in Cotto

Cat spelunks the canyon down
picking through lichen broidered tile.
My lover's hands diagram, inform:
           slab after slab of wet clay
           curved across the thigh to pave
           the high square meteres of the sparrows' way.

This mute arc reiterates the form
of what coulted femeur's slack desire?
Makers now in abandoned bone box stacked
Shout their names marked in black
at dull, dun, desanctified walls.

Amnesiac tiles cup together, deaf above
foxed timbers dressed in sixty years of lime.
They uphold each others' weight,

           Sweet compression.
           As distracted as August lovers
           (lost thigh to sweaty thigh)
           trying to topple not the slender wooden frame
           of a kitchen chair.

Busy, keeping the rain out.

poem and photo copyright Bonnie McClellan 2009
This is the first of a suite of 3 poems that treat 24 hours in Caulonia Superiore

Cultural Atlas: Mapping the Terrain

"You are Here" installation sculpture in cut grass at the airfield of Vespolate in Novara by Matthew Broussard
“You are Here” installation sculpture in cut grass at Novara’s Vespolate airfield by Matthew Broussard as part of the exhibition: Clicking the Territory

The time has come for the introductory essays for International Poetry Month 2013, a project I started 5 years ago in an effort to create a dynamic space for poetry around the world to be read and heard. Each year has had a theme and this year’s theme is ‘Cultural Atlas’. I admit, I stole this theme from The Sketchbook Project 2013. As I started working on my sketchbook I began to think of all of the ways this theme dovetailed nicely with what IPM is about: making cultures accessible to one another, sounding the similarities and marveling at the differences.

The photograph to your right is of an installation sculpture that my husband, Matthew Broussard, did for an exhibition called ‘Clicking the Territory’ in 2009 (the first year of IPM). It’s titled “You are Here” and is an image of the ‘clicky hand’ – that we all know and love from the virtual world – mown into the grass of Novara’s Vespolate airfield. So, you are here but where is here? Without google maps and panoramio how would you ever know how find or even be able to imagine the dirt runway and green grass of Vespolate if you’d never been there?

So, where am I? The ‘location’ box to the right of my screen says gemonio, varese italy; but I feel my internal, physical and cultural map of Texas bumping up against Gemonio’s every day. This is not a bad thing, it’s just noticeable. As a poet I appreciate the fact that it makes me think and inspires me. The interesting part is how often I need to superimpose these two maps to orient myself both internally – culturally and historically – and externally, for others who don’t have an internal map of Texas for reference.

As a Texan living in Italy, “Where are you from?” is a question I get asked a lot. It’s an easy answer; I grew up in Dallas and I have yet to meet an Italian who doesn’t know that it’s the city where either:

  1. JFK was shot, or
  2. the TV series Dallas was made.

I fall into this nebulous terrain on an Italian’s mental map, though few of them could indicate Texas on a map of the U.S. I am often, when describing where I’m from, constrained to superimpose a map of Europe over my internal map which results in comparisons like:

“Texas is about as big as France / Texas è più o meno la stessa grandezza della Francia.”

Or, time/distance equations with multiple variables:

“It takes the same amount of time to drive from Dallas to the border with Mexico as it does to drive from Liguria to Calabria / Ci vuole lo stesso tempo di guidare da Dallas al confine con il Messico, come fa a guidare dalla Liguria alla Calabria.”

The same size(mic) translation is required for my family and friends in Texas when trying to contextualize media frenzy over Italian earthquakes.

In blog land we are all in an ever evolving here, no matter how far apart we are. Here is where we begin our IPM exploration.

Where is your here? If you’ve written a poem that touches on mapping your cultural territory (interior or exterior) I’m interested in reading. Check out the submission guidelines HERE.

Stay tuned! Up next: Cultural Atlas of the Periphery and the Center…

Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Size(mic) Map of Texeuropa

copyright 2012 Bonnie McClellan - all rights reserved
Metaphorical scale map of Texas and Europe

Texas is large but the map is only metaphorically in scale. I spent 38 years in Texas and just 7 in Europe but European culture also holds the underpinnings of U.S. culture. In real terms, Texas is about equal to continental France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland all stuck together (but not nearly as densely populated).

As a Texan living in Italy, “Where are you from?” is a question I get asked a lot. It’s an easy answer; I grew up in Dallas and I have yet to meet an Italian who doesn’t know that it’s the city where either:

  1. JFK was shot, or
  2. the TV series Dallas was made.

This is where I fall on a map though few of them could tell you where the state is in the U.S. and I am often, when describing distances in Texas, constrained to superimpose a map of Europe over my internal map which results in comparisons like:

“Texas is about as big as France / Texas è più o meno la stessa grandezza della Francia.”

Or time/distance equations with multiple variables:

“It takes the same amount of time to drive from Dallas to the border with Mexico as it does to drive from Liguria to Calabria / Ci vuole lo stesso tempo di guidare da Dallas al confine con il Messico, come fa a guidare dalla Liguria alla Calabria.”

The interesting part to me is how often I need to superimpose these two maps to orient myself both internally – culturally and historically – and for others who don’t have and internal map of Texas for reference.

Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: El Pescador / Fingerprint:Ring

Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Il Pescador / Fingerprint:Ring
El Pescador/Fingerprint: Ring – a multimedia collage from “Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Embroidered Errors.”

This will make more sense if you take a look at the previous pages of the Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Embellished Errors

The title El Pescador is from the Mexican lotteria card (that somehow emigrated from Texas to Italy tucked between the pages of a book) included in the mixed media collage on the left hand page. Behind it is another hand print in marble dust on tissue painted round with lampblack. The hand print reaches towards a neon-pink sticker with my mother’s handwriting, towards an unreachable past from a composite future represented by El Pescador – the fisherman – who must always be anchored within in order not to be lost. Ironically, although the image is taken from my Texas cultural roots, the landscape on the card looks surprisingly like that of Lago Maggiore with the Alps in the background, a landscape I’ve addressed in two poems: Monte Rosa or the Picturesque and the Sublime, and Lombard Spring / Rondeau á Lago Maggiore.

The left hand page is connected to the right by a coat of white paint that covers (on the center left) an image of a person who has just opened a box (Pandora’s?), and is holding instructions for what to do with the contents but looks doubtful – again from IKEA. Living in a different cultural context with a different language and only the cultural map from my ‘mother-culture’ to navigate by was a bewildering sensation that I explored in Testimonio.

I found myself searching for constants, strangely comforted by being near the Mediterranean sea whose waters – in some slow, circumnavigation through white clouds and shifting currents – must have once broken on the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. Fingerprint:Ring expresses that unity through another universal language: hardware (no, not the computer kind). A pencil drawing of a hose clamp, comfortingly the same in any country, neither metric nor standard, adjustable with a flat-head screwdriver, a slender coin, or the tip of a butter knife. At the top left of the page, my pale, smeary fingerprint, an intentional error, both unique and universal.

Cultural Atlas: White Skirt on the Train

In looking at experiences that are culturally specific to my life in Italy, there is the train…a marker, something utterly distinct from transport in Texas by car. I chose the light moving across the surface of a white linen skirt in an attempt to localize the sensory experience of being on the train to a specific focal point.

Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Embellished Errors – (Pax Texana)

Pax Texana - copyright 2012 Bonnie McClellan all rights reserved

The inside cover of my Cultural Atlas is covered with Italian shelf-paper. I used it because when I tore up the front cover, I thought that the inside should be stabilized (another embellished error). This paper is still made in this country; a lovely, heavy, egg-cream ground with black, red, dark blue, or green patterns. When I had first moved to Italy, I lived in a rural valley outside Florence; I was trading work for a place to stay with an American-Italian couple. One of the first things Adele asked me to do was strip off the old paper from her kitchen shelves and re-cover them with new paper. It marked one of my first trips into the treasure-palace that is the Italian ‘whatnot’ store. While I was living there I was in the process of a separation that turned into a divorce and a cultural shift that involved re-evaluating the (then) 38 years of my life in Texas.

The poetry/story of this can be found in my Orphan Poetry series; however, later, I also made, from the empty tissue paper ‘books’ that remain after one has used up the thin sheets of gold leaf, a series of impressions of my left hand made with white marble-dust and gum arabic. In these two ‘books’ there is one page and one hand-print for each year of my life with the year written in pencil on the bottom-left and my age on the top-right. They overlap and stick, they are messy (as my life has been) and made of the dust of rocks that were once marine fossils, our common calcite frame.

PAX TEXANA - detail (copyright 2012 Bonnie McClellan, all rights reserved)

This attempt to make peace between my Texas past and my Italian present is included in the collage on the first page of the Cultural Atlas. The envelope from the gold leaf (delivered from Italy to Texas and then repatriated when I moved here) holds the book. Above the envelope is the word PAX – which speaks to the common Roman/Latin cultural roots between the two places – from the instructions for an IKEA shelving unit – representing a more recent, consumer empire that uses those common roots to try and make clients feel ‘at home’.

A Saracen grain cake was in her mouth…adventures in cooking with buckwheat

 Several weeks ago I was at the Italian version of Whole Foods Market (only much smaller). I was getting some nice organic flour for my bread making and on the aisle on the way to the register I ran across a package of ‘mixed seeds’ on sale, it had pumpkin, sesame and sunflower in there (some of my favorites) and then ‘grano saraceno tostato’. Thinking the Italian version of ‘hmmm, well, what d’ya know?’ which is the much shorter ‘boh.’ – I plopped the little package into my basket and went on with my day.
Of course when I offered some to my curious 5 year old daughter – “Hey, want some of these seeds on your yogurt?”, her inevitable question: “What kind of seeds?!?” was not to be fobbed off with a quick, “Lots of different ones.” So, I had to lay one of each kind out on the table in a row from smallest to largest, and give them their appropriate names in English and Italian:

semi di sesamo = sesame seed
semi di lino = flax seed
grano saraceno tostato = boh, I don’t know, toasted Saracen grain?
semi di girasole = sunflower seed
semi di zucca
= pumpkin seed

And of course mamma’s “I don’t know” was pounced on.
Robin Kay: “What’s Saracen grain?”
Mamma: “It must be these little triangular ones that are so crunchy.”
Robin Kay: “But is it called that in English?”
Mamma: “I don’t think so, but I don’t know exactly what it’s called in English…let’s look it up”

On behalf of mamma’s the world over, I offer my profound thanks to Wikipedia! I found the entry in Italian and went down the language list to English and in a click there it was:

Mamma: “Oh look, it’s Buckwheat, like in Ol’ Suzanna (singing) ‘a buckwheat cake was in her mouth, a tear was in her eye…”
Robin Kay: “What’s a buckwheat cake? Can you sing the rest of the song?”
Mamma: sigh…

Needless to say the next time I went to the store I bought some buckwheat flour and I’ve been experimenting with using it in bread. Today, because I don’t feel like making something as complex as a cake, I found a recipe for a buckwheat shortbread cookie on the L.A. times website.  I made only a few changes based on what I had in the pantry and what I didn’t: I used wholewheat flour rather than white for the 1/2 cup of ‘not-buckwheat flour’, I used brown (turbinado/demerara) sugar and, for lack of walnuts or almonds, I toasted a mix of pine nuts, oatmeal and flax seeds which I then went over a few times with the mezzaluna…

Yes, I know, it looks like a log of compressed wood; buckwheat flour is, well, gray. The dough has to be rolled up and put in the fridge for a few hours before slicing and baking so I’m hoping that, with a dusting of powdered sugar, the finished ‘Saracen grain cakes’ will look as good as they promise to taste (the the bit of dough that stuck to the bowl was delicious!). We’ll let you know how they come out…

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