Poem in the Shape of a Rose

  1. I got it all wrong.
  2. Frightened at the microphone, the ugly,
  3. gentle poet with the overbearing
  4. hesitation, my namesake, who
  5. still goes by my name, was wrong.
  6. He called himself Egotism, and Passion.
  7. He was wrong in his stammering brilliance,
  8. that skinny strongman of literature,
  9. answering the questions of friends and Fascists.
  10. You speakers from Teramo and Salerno,
  11. from Conselice, Frosinone and Genoa,
  12. that man, who was always so right,
  13. got it all wrong.
  14. Having come down from Paris
  15. —the spring was the same all over Europe,
  16. menstruation of mud and feverish sun,
  17. would that the sun of that spring
  18. should spread irresistible sorrow
  19. over the fields (rust-colored with a milky
  20. plum-purple and green ovals, and the shade
  21. of the Romance forest in the background…
  22. Watteau, Renoir – saltpetre
  23. under a layer of green, barbarous)
  24. or over these fields: at the feet
  25. of altarpieces, Appennine reds
  26. and shanties of the Latin subproletariat –
  27. …I got it all wrong.
  28. Ah, the system of signs
  29. concocted in laughter with Leonetti and Calvino
  30. during the usual stopover up North.
  31. Signs for the deaf-mute and ideograms
  32. for the whole world to use forever.
  33. The poor Denka, deep in the Sudan
  34. with all the other poor savages
  35. (a hundred and twenty dialects), can now walk
  36. with assurance, spear on his shoulder like a ski,
  37. tall and naked, sublime worm
  38. old as the hills and young as the day,
  39. into that drawing never drawn
  40. (except by fanatical Rousseauvian
  41. rationalists, in Europe)
  42. of sycamores and mahoganies
  43. (which I love as much as the finest Christian
  44. monuments, perhaps for the sun, the peace,
  45. the horror of Africa all around)
  46. swollen asymetrically against the green,
  47. a green not French, a green
  48. not Latin
  49. —against the green of the world,
  50. ingrown for millennia in the forest.
  51. You can rest easy, Denka,
  52. and you of the hundred-and-twenty other tribes
  53. who speak the sounds of different kin,
  54. because Leonetti and Calvino and I
  55. are setting up systems of signs
  56. and you can kiss your dialects goodbye.
  57. I got it all wrong. Fiumicino,
  58. re-emerging between clouds of mud,
  59. is even older than I am.
  60. The remains of old Pasolini
  61. against the shapes of the Agro…
  62. hovels and clusters of high-rises….
  63. They’re a fleshy rose of sorrow
  64. with five roses ingrown,
  65. cancers of the rose within the original
  66. rose: In the beginning was Sorrow.
  67. Behold it now, One and Fivefold.
  68. The first of the inner roses stands for
  69. (ah, a shot of morphine! Help!):
  70. You got it all wrong, you ugly, gentle fool!
  71. Me, wrong! The thought of it!
  72. Understand? Me! The failure, the humiliation…
  73. It’s over: no more cursing and suicides.
  74. The river-sun of Fiumicino
  75. tells me that I’m full of blinding
  76. sand and crumbling mud.
  77. While in the cab to a resurfacing
  78. Rome, the petals of the cancer
  79. and old Pasolini self-consumed,
  80. dejected, despondent.
  81. And there, behind the mistake in linguistics,
  82. ingrown petal over ingrown petal
  83. in the Fivefold Rose, lies Sorrow number Two:
  84. “a whole life gone wrong.”
  85. You need only pluck a petal to see it.
  86. Red where it was supposed to be white
  87. or white where it was supposed to be yellow,
  88. it’s your choice: which leaves us, inevitably,
  89. over the course of a whole life, with
  91. Like a river which—in the amazing
  92. fact of being that very river—
  93. inevitably can never be
  94. any other river.
  95. It is said one misses many opportunities in life.
  96. But… life has only ONE opportunity.
  97. And I’ve completely missed it.
  98. How can all of this
  99. not have repercussions in sex, castrating
  100. the son down to his last tears?
  101. And here we come to the Cancer’s Third Crown.
  102. An invasion of thick-tongued barbarians
  103. (the taxi sideswipes an embankment,
  104. the grass sharp and black from the heart
  105. of nights swampy and mysterious from birth,
  106. at the mercy of this murderous sun),
  107. a medieval invasion, of Goths or Celts.
  108. The same sun that gives migraines to modern-day
  109. adolescents, college students, middle-class
  110. ladies with their makeup and drivers’ licenses,
  111. poisons barbarians too…. Ah,
  112. perhaps in the frost of meadows in bloom
  113. will he find rest in some manual
  114. labor not unworthy, never unworthy,
  115. of man. Around him,
  116. in the Latin village, beyond
  117. the fallow fields—divided by Priapus
  118. when pagan, by the Cross when Christian—
  119. the bell that down through the ages
  120. never rang at three in the afternoon
  121. will be silent. Sex reawakens
  122. before spring: it’s probably the frost or sweat
  123. that rouses the flesh still in its winter clothes,
  124. its woollen knits, which seem to make it burn
  125. just like a dog’s or horse’s flesh
  126. soft as fruit and dry as dried mud;
  127. or it’s the cold that snakes across the grass
  128. too green on the embankments,
  129. or the heat of the first white sun
  130. in which the village bell is silent
  131. and the animals graze as though dreaming….
  132. And woman, whose nobility
  133. is manifest in the hypocrisy
  134. of pretending to be merely submissive
  135. —calling her weakness obedience—
  136. she too is lost in some manual labor,
  137. woman’s work, she amongst women….
  138. And she does not sing, for down through the ages
  139. never did a woman sing at three in the afternoon.
  140. The sun’s menstruation has no smell.
  141. The animals graze as though dreaming….
  142. Sorrow Number Three lies not
  143. in suffering this terrible desire
  144. but in turning it only into obsession.
  145. Which brings us to the Fourth Sorrow,
  146. where, prey to the death-wishes
  147. leaping up from my lap, I want to
  148. bash my head mutely against against
  149. the taxi’s window as we cruise
  150. along the highway and it’s clear
  151. I’m without love, when in fact the world,
  152. whether barbarian or miserably bourgeois, is full
  153. of love, full to bursting…. Century after century
  154. the sun has been triggering migraines and erections
  155. —the father urinates, overcoming his desire for the night,
  156. into a little ditch, ancient division
  157. of fields by pre-Italic and Italic peoples
  158. in this same circle of the Appennines
  159. while I, by this sun, in woolen sweater
  160. and first sweat in the frost,
  161. I’m beginning, fists in my lap, to appreciate
  162. my lack of love, down to the last tear.
  163. The Fifth Sorrow is harder to express
  164. (especially now that newspapers in Paris
  165. mangle my name
  166. and we’re anticipating, I and Calvino
  167. and Leonetti, Professors of Modernity in Universities
  168. of the North, a new anthropological age
  169. to deconsecrate all dialects!);
  170. in fact it’s downright ridiculous,
  171. except for the tears,
  172. when we come to understand its reason:
  173. the disappointment of history!
  174. Which leads us to death
  175. without ever having lived
  176. and leaves us to dwell on life
  177. and consider it flotsam,
  178. a stupendous possession that doesn’t belong to us.
  179. It’s the ridiculous sorrow of the prisoner
  180. or cripple who sees others being granted everything
  181. in an endless triumph of happiness
  182. as simple as the sunlight with which it is confused.
  183. The Fifth Sorrow is knowing
  184. that billions of people,
  185. one sweet morning, will awaken
  186. as on every other morning of their lives
  187. in the simple sun of the future Europe
  188. with its mulberries and primroses
  189. —or in the deep sun of India,
  190. sublime stench of cholera afloat
  191. over little bodies naked as spirits
  192. —or in the brazen sun
  193. of ever more modern Africa
  194. over the green of death that will frame
  195. the furious gift of life,
  196. —or in this Fiumicino sun, river-sun
  197. that turns the smell of mud into a celebration
  198. of wretched Latin immortality….
  199. Billions of people
  200. one sweet morning will awaken
  201. to the simple triumph of life’s thousand mornings
  202. with their sweaters burning… with the dampness
  203. of their first sweat… Happy—all of them—
  204. Happy! Happy they alone!
  205. They alone shall possess the sun!
  206. The same sun that warmed the barbarians
  207. who in the Middle Ages came down
  208. from the mountain gorges, from the shadows
  209. of the snow and set up camp
  210. on the black and bristly, harsh
  211. and happy grass of April’s embankments.
  212. Only he who is unborn lives!
  213. Lives because he has yet to live!
  214. All shall be his, is his, was his!
  215. Rome opens like the dawn
  216. behind the coils of a Tiber
  217. swollen with trees as splendid as flowers,
  218. shining white city awaiting the unborn,
  219. vague form like a fire
  220. in the fire of a New Prehistory.
  221.                                                                                                                             1962