For Matthew, on the occasion of his 57th birthday: 18 June 2020

Old Women and Old Men at the Ferry Stop

(The old women)

We remember the harem of the walled citrus grove;

Old women, how like apple trees we gather now:

Pink, heavy with stories of

some familiar odd thing —

mimosa trees, a seagull’s wing.


The wind rattles branch and bone

creases in our skin drawn dry

the feathered marks begin


(The old men)

A grove of old men gathers at the dock

live oak, pin oak;

Backs curved, stilted up

Worn down with the effort of standing

Dry twig of a laugh cracks wry.


The empty and chaotic air,

that passing through the trumpet sounds:

Ferry outbound, ferry in


Grebes baste across the swanless surface

disappearing threads.


The Mountains Are on Fire: by Bonnie McClellan

The mountains are on fire with clouds,

burning wet they billow up,

choking the spaces between the trees.


I hear the ticking of two clocks.


Furrowing through the valleys

fat white engulfs the state road,

levelling even the bell tower’s lopsided stones.


The crackling ash of rain stops.

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.

Got hot?

It finally got to 95 degrees today! I’m sure that doesn’t sound like much to my Texas friends and family (yes, Dallasites, I know, 105/105/105/105….all week long) but, I have no AC. Not because it’s busted but because there is none. Still, it feels good to close the thick wooden shutters in the house, feel the still air and the stickiness of my skin.
The southern wall of the house is soaking up the heat, in preparation for winter. Sometime in January it will all have leached out and the cold seeped in, weaseled through the brick, mortar, and plaster so that I can feel the winter pushing in the house and the little wood-stove pushing back.

For now I’m enjoying the brief summer here in Northern Italy, especially the light….

I’m in love…with the lake

This is the web cast from Cerro-Laveno…if you want to know what my sky looks like you can click the reload button on your browser or (go somewhere else like HERE and then come back) and the sky will change…it’s in real time. Now, I have an, albeit lo res, view of lago maggiore. I’m enchanted….

Lombard Spring / Rondeau á Lago Maggiore



The Spring won’t come. A dun bird shifts
his leaden wing and preens the quick
unplanished sky. The rain holds back
above the glacier’s mirrored lac.
Sheet pinned to sheet clouds sullen drift,

Mountain’s iron foot shores the split,
Dis’ black horses elude the bit.
In white re-dressed the peak sounds back:
The Spring won’t come!

Persephone irons out her shift,
Twists off her leaden ring and quick
folds up famine’s sheet; sighs, turns back
to Somnus’ smile ingrained with lack
of sleep pinned to sleep, beauty drifts,
the Spring won’t come.

by Bonnie Mcclellan copyright 2011

listen to this poem here: 

Real-time webcam view of Lago Maggiore from Cerro

Via Clivio

the tile lined roof on the last villa

of the petty nobles of this town

sags like the jaw line of a matron.

her voice sings out

a spinster’s peevish tweet:



(distant falling daughter of whatever local saint

though aren’t we all?)

shames her poor dog.

he of:

nothing to do but go mad with barking;

jamesian psycosis

closed shutters

infinite empty rooms.

MONTE ROSA or The Picturesque and the Sublime

hayfield in Lombardia with Monte Rosa in the Background made invisible by sunlight.

Paint everything which is not
only sky only
the tranquil green of a hayfield
tumbling towards a horizion
of what it’s missing.

It is this void, superimposed upon the mountain
which instructs the heart:
There is the possibility of absence.

Bonnie M. McClellan

Monte Rosa

I have lived in Italy for three years now and it never stops being beautiful. The concept of a quotidian and yet extrodinarily beautiful vision continues to fascinate me as did the daily magic of the sky when I lived in Texas.

I wrote this poem parked in the parkinglot of the cemetery of the town of Orino, Italy. The cemetery is along the local road that I drive down on the way to and from my daughter’s daycare in Castello Cabiaglio. I encounter a vision twice a day on this drive: Monte Rosa. The mountain is the wallpaper of my everyday life. Despite the ubiquity of this beauty, I feel an ache in my chest that has the emotional resonance of loss everytime I round the curve in the road that brings the moutain into sight. I’m still working my brain around living with something so beautiful that it hurts to look at.

Listen to the podcast here.

When something extrodinary becomes part of your ordinary.
When something extrodinary becomes part of your ordinary.

Late January: The birthday report

Birthday self-portrait 2009
Birthday self-portrait 2009

Normally my blogs are a little more like essays…this one is lighter and more gossipy but I have to tell you: I had a really great birthday! Spent the morning being lazy around the house and then we all got into the car and went to Varese to run errands which we didn’t quite finish before noon (when almost everything in Italy closes for lunch). I decided on the spur of the moment that we should try the new steak house up the road. It’s funny, Italians don’t age their beef as a rule, so the meat may have a good flavour but the texture is, well, bleah! Besides that, they’re so good with everything pork and seafood that it’s rare for us to eat beef (oooh, bad pun…sorry!).

Anyway, lunch was a big whopping rare t-bone with a salad and a few french fries that I snuck off of Matthew and Robin’s plates. They brought little Robin balloons and she had the most fun moving peanuts from one little bucket to another although she did manage to eat three chicken fingers and five fries (which she kept calling ‘pies’). Thanks you mama, steve and G.G. for buying us such a delicious lunch! I had the chance to talk to them for a few minutes when they called while we were on our to Laveno.

View towards Intra from the harbour at Laveno
View towards Intra from the harbour at Laveno

It was a gorgeous day! Laveno is by the lake and with the sun out the alps were a postcard…covered in snow on the top shading into deep violet/blue of the valley’s. We went down to the ferry landing to let Robin feed the ducks, had some hot coco at the nearby pastry shop/bar, bought white flowers for our sculpture and came home, kind of.

Our little girl had had a bad cough for a week so I decided we should run up to the pediatrician’s office for a quick visit (in Italy it’s FREE! and the doctor is just open so we could walk in, that is so cool!) Good thing we went because he thought she had a little bronchitis and wanted her to have a mild antibiotic. Matthew ran up the street and to get the rest of the ingredients that he needed to make me a cake and then down to the pharmacy by the station to get the baby’s medicine. Living in the mountains is a leg toning experience!

Sickly baby is very tired.
Sickly baby is very tired.

We gave Robin her medicine, a little something to eat, and a bottle of milk and it took her about 2 seconds to fall sound asleep. I sat in the kitchen, sipped a glass of wine and watched Matthew making cake. He’d been hinting for a month that he’d found the perfect present and I was wondering what it could be. I knew that he’d bought me another 6 place settings of silver plate flatware to match my grandmother’s pattern that would come with his family in February; but, he’d said there was something else even better…what could it be?

Matthew had been text messaging all day so finally I asked if it had something to do with the film (he’s going to start building sets for a film in about 3 weeks). He looked up and smiled and said, ‘It’s your present. I’m having it delivered.” Now I was curious, was it a pizza or a piano? His phone kept buzzing and he kept texting, then after a while he said, “It’s here, maybe you should go look downstairs.”

At the top of the stairs.
At the top of the stairs.

We live on the third floor of an old palazzo built in 1908. Outside our door is a wide stone stair case with a wrought iron rail that descends around a square foyer. When I leaned over the balustrade I could see fabric cases with zippers…big square ones. Had he hired a masseuse? I saw the top of a blond woman’s head but didn’t see her face…voices, more cases. I started down the stairs. When I reached the bottom I saw my friend Lee with her little girl Dahlia and then her husband Marco carrying in a case for a stand up bass…Music! The square cases were for a big vibraphone belonging to Francesco who often plays with Marco. Matthew was giving me a private jazz concert for my birthday…but just for us, it seemed extravagant.

Where the band played on.
Where the band played on.

We shoved the furniture to the side so that Marco and Francesco could set up in our living room. The 16ft. ceilings and thick stone walls combined with the wood floor made a perfect room for the sound. I heard Matthew telling Marco that after they set up we’d all eat dinner…dinner, I’d thought we’d be eating left over risotto from the night before. Right about then the door bell rang. It was Annarita and Manuella with two big casseroles of Pasta al Forno. Then came Marco Chierichetti with flowers and a book of poetry by Fernando Pessoa, two of our neighbors, Graciella, Amy with a tray full of Turkish sweets that she’d baked and much later Rick…A surprise party. I was so deeply touched that more than once I almost cried. That and homemade lunchlady chocolate cake…Wow!

After awhile, Robin woke up. At first she was sure that the music was somehow coming from inside one of my birthday packages. As she helped me unwrap them she peered anxiously inside saying, “music? i-pod? music in package?” I finally convinced her that the music was coming from the two men playing instruments and she was more than a little nervous. Looking at the stand up bass she said, “Very, very awful violin, VERY toooo big.” Later, during a break she was excited when Francesco gave her two of his long mallets and encouraged her to bang away on the bars of the vibraphone. It was so fun for me to watch her respond to something completely new.

Music may seem like a small thing, a ubiquitous thing; but as anyone who is the parent of a young child can tell you, leaving the house to see a movie or to have dinner is already difficult, staying out late enough to see a concert or go to a night club is almost impossible. A live jazz concert during mid-winter in provincial Italy, forget about it. Walking through our house, the air in every room humid with sound classic compositions by Parker, Davis, and Coletrain along with new compositions by Francesco and Marco I was in heaven. It was the perfect gift: thoughtful, intimate, a surprise. The gift of an experience together with our friends which contains within it the future pleasure of recollection.

P.S. I wish I had made a video of ‘my’ concert but I did find the above video clip of the vibes player on youtube…

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