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.
Every few days there is rain in Serra San Bruno; this is not good for the filming. Most of the movie takes place out of doors where the charcoal burners are working. There is lots of expensive equipment, including a camera that costs as much as two houses which needs to stay clean and dry in an environment full of wood smoke, charcoal, and rain. In sum, this is not an easy combination for getting things done on schedule. Today the wind was so fierce that half the film crew came back black-faced from the charcoal smoke.
The structures built by the charcoal burners (or carbonai) are incredible, they look like sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy and seem more beautiful being constructed so of necessity rather than invention. The movements, the decisions, the rhythm of constructing these “scarrazzi” (in english this translates as a ‘charcoal clamp‘ are intuitive for these men. For the film Matthew needs to make some pieces of wood to be used in the construction of the centre of one of the scarrazzi appear very white and as if the bark was trimmed off by hand…so he’s trimming it off by hand with a big machete. The wood is fresh pine and exuding resinous sap, Robin calls it “Papa’s sticky wood” and is very excited to see the capo of the carbonai, Artemio, using a chain saw. In general she likes the men in their black dusted clothes and faces and remembers all of their names: Artemio, Bruno, Zeno, Salvatore.
The smell of woodsmoke chases through the town on the tail of the hard wind like the ghost of a warm fire searching for a place to sit down. I am unsure if it’s smoke blown down the long river bed from the charcoal burner’s works or from the cumulative fireplaces of Serra San Bruno, long and narrow; clustered along both sides of the river like Lancelot and Guinevere on either side of Arthur’s sword. Robin and I go out and take our walk in the wind and smoke…amidst the baroque granite landmarks remains the rest of the town, getting on with it’s normal life in the south:
There is a store that sells real fruit and fake flowers, the sales woman inside is wearing her winter coat and a hat, the small heating stove is off, we are the only customers I have seen in this store in a week of passing by the door twice a day. The saleswoman will not take my money, she gives Robin an apple for free. This is Calabria.
We keep walking and pass by facades of ridged brick both holding up and falling down, the sad leftovers of Mussolini’s vision, shoving up against both the slender, solid granite posts of the old houses that support gracious granite arcs as well as the concrete walls of apartment blocks made to ward off both earthquake and beauty; battened down with corrugated steel that sends streams of rust enriched rain water down into the flaking plaster of the house next door.
What a place. And next we’ll be going to another paradoxically beautiful and squalourous Calabrian town, Caulonia.
Matthew is anxious to get back to Caulonia because there are many other things that need to be worked on there. On the one hand, it’s been a real break for me, staying in a hotel; there are other people doing the cooking and cleaning and lots of big spaces for Robin to explore as well as lots of new people to make friends with. Still, I think we are all ready to be in a place where we can wake up in the morning, make our own coffee and drink it in bed. So we’re looking forward to being in Caulonia where we can stay in an apartment with a kitchen.
We made it to Calabria about a month ago. Robin was wonderful on the airplane; she sat on my lap for the whole flight without much wriggling at all, ate chips, drank juice, and looked at the Easy Jet magazine. It happened that there were lots of other kids on the plane and the older ones ran up and down the aisle paying her occasional visits complete with kisses and games of peek-a-boo.
We arrived right on time and Matthew was there about 2 minutes after we walked through the exit door. Robin was very excited and we were all very happy to see each other. We went immediately for a slice of pizza because it was 1:30 by then and we were beyond starving! Then we got chips and hot water to go and packed ourselves into the van.
As we started down the road Robin talked to her dad while I ate a huge orange (one of several that were in the car). This part of Italy is orange country and this is the season for them. People give them away by the sack full and this one was really delicious. I had forgotten what spring looked like. Up north we still had snow in spots and frost on the fields every morning where standing water was dull with ice. Things had just begun to turn that hopeful shade of gray that presages green the week before we left. Here, in the far south, there were lush swaths of green grass poking up around olive trees as big as live oaks. It was a pleasure to see these trees again, two and three hundred years old they dwarf the smaller olive trees of Tuscany and as torqued as the trunks and branches are it is easy to imagine them as more than trees.
In Serra San Bruno Bobbie and I took a walk every day. First we would stop at the piazza which is closest to the hotel. There is a church façade covered in scaffolding, some benches and it is here that we stop for cookies. Then Robin goes up and down the steps of the church, occasionally stepping inside the door where she’s been heard to say (unprompted): “No more church for MY daughter.
Our next stop is the “Lion Fountain” where Bobbie can put her hand in the running water and beep the noses of the lions that are not spitting water. On the way we pass this lyrical baroque church façade carved surprisingly in unlyrical granite. The contrast of the form and the material is pleasantly diverting to the eye.