Summer by the Ligurian Sea

“A minor seventh concordant sounds
with this planched hillside and my dry mouth.
Acrid greenness that smells like a copper coin
tipped to the tongue.
Secco, secchio. Mare, ammaro.”
-bonnie mcclellan

The big things, the wide things, are general. The Mediterranean coast line full of lavender, and other sun baked shrubs that exude the smell of curry and thyme. The eye and the mouth taste something astringent and ochre in this intense green baked soft. It leaves a metallic twinge on the tip of my tongue, on the basin of my retina, nickel cadmium, a licked penny.

The water diffuses everything, the small stones that line the undersea shelf shush-hush-shushing the smack-happy surface which is busy redrawing the coastline; excavating more stones to council silence. Onshore, some of these stones have gone utterly verdigris, church-dome green arching up from the general chaos of grey-scale slashed with white.

What is specific and at the same time wildly general to the vacation house terraces, repeated with small variations along the Mediterranean coast: the banality of bougainvillea and lime, the white table, the beach umbrella, the backpacks crammed with towels, folding chairs, concrete, tile, the ground scattered with ants, crumbs and a child’s plastic toys, the taut umbrella over the table and the shadow of the butterfly that crosses above it.

What is exactly here? FRAMURA, frazione ANZO the lower section but above COSTA and the train station. Folding chairs, the old kind that are made of wood and metal with a little rust, at one point they were white but have been repainted with a colour the paint store has labeled ‘azure’. The umbrella over the table is a deep cherry red. It has six wooden ribs. The branch of a lime tree with one lime has tucked up underneath the umbrella’s far edge. All the parts of the lime leaves facing up towards the inside of the umbrella are catching the reflected red, turning these sides into a chromatic shift of red-russet-brown-black. The contrast between the green of the underside of the leaf and it’s reddark surface makes each transitional edge as hard and clean as a struck blank.

Diaspora: by Bonnie McClellan

The written version of this poem has disappeared. If you’re wondering why, click HERE.
To listen to the audio version of the poem, click below.

The Geologists’ Sacrament: The first to become a mineral wins


I would I were a wingéd thing
And these white stones not bruised my feet.
From half sky’s arc this groundscape see;
Like girasoleil and moth at once.
Face then Gomorrah’s candled sun,
And false to God like Mrs. Lot
Turn arbre-form in Halite caught;
Qualcosa utile, quotidienne.
Ground down and lightly sown across
Unrisen flower and fragrant oil;
Then in the mouth of Adam lost
Mineral dust to dust returned.

poem copyright Bonnie McClellan 2009

“The eye comes always ancient to its work, obsessed by its own past and by old and new insinuations of the ear, nose, tongue, fingers, heart, and brain. It functions not as an instrument self-powered and alone, but as a dutiful memeber of a complex and capricious organism.”

– Nelson Goodman from “Languages of Art

This poem is one in a series that I am currently writing that takes it’s inspiration from the rhythms and subject matter of sacred texts varied and sundry. It is also the fruit of my continuing struggle as a poet to reconcile the three languages that jostle for position in my work as I am searching for exactly the right word. This particular piece is inspired by the rhythm of the Latin Hymn “O SALUTARIAS HOSTIA”. The content inspired by conversations had with the Artist, Matthew Broussard and the film director, Michangelo Frammartino about Pythagoras’ four states of being: Human, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. The concept of the observed walk as a transformative experience  is also inspired in part by the work of sculptor Richard Long.

Calabrian Chronicles: Caulonia, and so we begin…

The drive in to Caulonia
The drive in to Caulonia

It’s still incredibly beautiful here. I forgot. In the spaces between the rains the sky runs and falls; gathers itself and plunges again towards the sea. Cumulonimbus titans strike their shins on the horizon line as they stumble through the Mediterranean, dead drunk and anxious to reach Ithaca. This is a place where mothers still name their sons Ulysses.

Caulonia under stomy skies.
Caulonia superiore under stomy skies.

The houses are like barnacles on a rock; roof tiles buried in lichen and slathered with concrete where they meet at the crown in an uneasy sea-sick ridge. Below the rust-eaten white iron boundary of the balcony-rail I can see two flaps of a prickly pear struggling out from between two heavy arcs of terracotta.

Morning light on the Ionian Sea
Morning light on the Ionian Sea from Piazza Belvedere

The edge of the sky at dawn over the water is like Montale’s description, a singing strip of metal lath, a kite string straining against the rebounding vault of blue. His was the western sea, the Ligurian coast, a sunset light. Here the Ionian dawn makes eastern music…Jove’s mute mistress writes her name in the sand with a round hoof…IO.

Gioiosa Ionica
Gioiosa Ionica
Looking up at Caulonia from the East.
Looking up at Caulonia Superiore from the East.

New Translation: Eugenio Montale’s “Corno Inglese”

Eugenio Montale

English Horn

The wind this evening attentively plays
-bringing to mind the ringing metallic
slip of a blade-
the instrument of thick trees and open
copper horizon
where the lath of light yanks itself straight
like kites to the sky rebounding

(Traveling clouds, pale realms
of above! Of the high Eldoradeans
ill-closed door!)

and the sea that flake by flake
of mute, livid colours
thrusts at the ground a blast
of twisted foam;
the wind that births and dies
within the slowly darkening hour
may also be singing to you this evening,
disused instrument,

Corno Inglese

Il vento che stasera suona attento
-ricorda un forte scuotere di lame-
gli strumenti di fitti alberi e spazza
l’orizzonte di rame
dove strisce di luce si protendono
come aquiloni al cielo che rimbomba

(Nuovole in viaggio, chiari
reami di lassu! D’alti Eldoradi
malchiuse porte!)

e il mare che scaglia a scaglia
livido, muta colore
lancia a terra una tromba
di schiume intorte;
il vento che nasce e muore
nell’ora che lenta s’annera
suonasse te pure stasera
scordato strumento,
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