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Contemporary Italian American Writing

Ned Condini
Poet and Translator of the Bordighera Prize Winner, 2002

SPIRIT OF MANHATTAN | WOODCLIFF LAKE | BROODING IN JACOB’S ROOM ZANZOT TANGO

Ned Condini, writer, translator, and literary critic, was born in Turin, Northern Italy. In 1976 he moved to New Jersey in voluntary exile and became an American citizen. Visiting professor at East Texas State University and at Vassar College, Condini was the recipient of the PEN/Poggioli Award for his versions of poet Mario Luzi (New York, 1986). Short stories and poems of his have appeared in TRANSLATION, New York; THE MISSISSIPPI REVIEW; PRAIRIE SCHOONER; THE PARTISAN REVIEW; MID-AMERICAN REVIEW; NEGATIVE CAPABILITY; ITALIAN AMERICANA; CHELSEA; YALE REVIEW, and THE VILLAGE VOICE. In May, 1994, Condini’s collection of poems, RIMBAUD IN UMBRIA, was published by Multigraf, Venice, and in November, 1996, his collection quartettsatz by VIA, Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana. At present he is completing his third novel, TORNADO, and a selection of Modern and Contemporary Italian Poetry (1855-1955) for the MLA of New York. Ned Condini is the translator for AndSongSongSonglessness by Jane Tassi, winner of the 2002 Bordighera Poetry Prize.

SPIRIT OF MANHATTAN

Enormous, spun from spider-webs of light,
the bridges flaunt a dazzle of the impossible
suddenly igniting the dark flow of water.
Prompted by starry threads, they buzz and laugh,
huddled against the raw wind sweeping decks,
yet glittering like tips of cigarettes,
feasting on canapés of renewed glee
that for three cruising hours will retrieve


and maybe save the city, a lime-green blur,
its sirens muffled, its sores a rainbow fall,
discipline and élan made lasting steel,
the strings of light like so many bars of music,
music as solace to which they’re drawn again,
irresistibly, by art’s unselfishness.

WOODCLIFF LAKE

Tenuous, the fog rises over the lake
showing the blue underneath in ragged streaks only.
But in the distance a flowering of golds
is coming into view and, round the corner, fires
of oak leaves stir the limited horizon
of our restricted lives.


A sudden melancholy strikes you from nowhere
as the paean of leaves majestically swells:
is it your youth that’s fleeing, winter approaching,
or are you falling with the fall of nature,
feeling your limbs go up in flames, your hair
caught in this milky mist that drowns the heart.


You’re not the child from Grimm who forgot to shudder
at the sight of death, but your ride today is a silent
search for the face of someone who was your friend:
you do not want the fall of leaves to grieve you.
You are their gold and their red, as you were their green.
So every journey contains the seeds of its end.


Let her be green, you Mover that I’m seeking,
once more with a child’s fresh vision.
Let her be water, a prism stripped of colors,
but with the idea of rainbow in it.
And with these yellows anchored in her like suns


of ripened wisdom, may
her ride every morning be a salutation to winter.
Gaze at a tree reduced to a geometry of lines,
a blade of grass made into a blade of steel,
an acorn resting under feet of snow
but growing into a thing of utmost beauty.
The yearning is the essence, not the Spring.

BROODING IN JACOB’S ROOM


Virginia, the same summer keeps on burning,
cluttered with bones, with Jacob not returning,
& widows roaming solitary fields,
hugging motherless children on the beach.
Clouds waver in the wind, the harbor’s far,
pounding waves breach the coast of San Miguel.
Had he been nothing then? Even if soldiers
could never hurt us, sparse light very soon
leaves our homes. So he too joined the horde


covered by grass, the thousands of white crosses,
dead leaves and winter paths bristling with ice.
The Kings’ Chapel at Cambridge knells self-trust,
voices whirl in the dance of giddy May.
His soul rose to his lips to recite Homer
as if Greek were a song, a robust wine:
for this gift he had come, to cull from old
people the vintage of their last crimson hour,
wisdom and dust hallowed by peace and bower.


Shadows, shadows. Life’s but a show of shadows.
She had called him, ready for his sake
to care for anyone--ignorant, or poor--
who was lugging around his load of troubles.
What did she want: the all-giving ebullience
of youth, his strength? It’s always the same summer
seething with love, but Jacob is no more
among the living; unprotesting Seabrook,
his mouth agape, is swallowed by the sea.

_______________________________________________________
ZANZOT TANGO

(wherein N.C.Pound vies with a Zanzótt in a disturbing tango)


In the illustrious house of sculpted ivories,
of precious coats of arms, glass leaves and flowers,
among the dreamy feasts a troubadour
praises in song laid tables on which vases,
filled with tea roses, groan,
the orange tree’s aroma
resonates, hearty food
calls for more and more cups.


But the guests, gathering
noble pains to their hearts,
look through wondrous triforia
at the far blue and the gold
of their hair burns their faces.
Coal embers hover,
candles animate walls,
under the tables death
is a mute splendid dog.


2

Nothing therefore I understood
of the eager groping of animals insects
flowers and suns, and nothing I detected
of the work whispered, spread out in the fields
or wizened in the nest,
nor did I notice sweat, my neighbor’s vigil
combustion: lost in spendthrift tropes
of my marvelous self--master of nothing...


My soul, be snow now, cleanse
my unlearned forehead.
Lift me. This the charisma
in whose scent I say Yes.
You have gathered me up from my old self
and with you I enter this year’s spring.


Now, not quite happy, in utter poverty
I do not savor your gifts yet
but in a little while you will
grant me all things I hoped for ardently.


How long between the grain and wind
of those attics more high
and more extended than the sky
how long I left you words of mine
my by now dried up risks.
With angels and chimeras
with ancient instruments
with diaries and the drama nights enact
taking turns with the sun
I left you up there so that you might
save from the scorching sun my unsure roof
disoriented chimneys, terraces
where hail rides in a frenzy...


From bleak rains and depressing ice
from endless waits for strawberries and poppies
from empty ridges snow
whose echo brings no glory
from sticky larvae of storms and dried up streams
from rocky desolation


pushing beyond all those calamitous
horrors and stony distances
only you love erupt transcend
you falling evermore
on our shriveled days
over entire woods of spring


3
I know I’m nothing but her suasive nodding.
Closed in her I shall live
like the drop shining in the rose then scattering
before the shadow of the lonely guest
touches--vast like the world--the earth.


My house of cherry, my
April bark, my bride’s veil,
flavor spiced in the dark,
ripe honeydew, my sail


be my not taken prisoner
just as in merriment
lips without effort glean
a face’s lineaments.


And I’ll bury my rage,
embroider drought with spring,
pour drinks into your mouth,
set your heart on the wing.


Now that I have blocked out distinctions
forever helpless to the last distinction
I stir salt in my bowl, perplexed: the glint
the crystals I derived from everything--
everything notwithstanding
--although perhaps because--
yet this marginal quiet is all mine


O never known never lost enough name,
darkness in love, sacred slap that destroys
and makes whole, you
at the hour when everything falls back
on the inept mouth spirit wasting away
and is next to an echo...
at least then


I know I speak in a language that dies


But I will live off you until distracted
your numen takes possession of the already
extinct meaning of me
until in other terrors you burst forth
in ever new evanescences


Beyond the grey edge of the world,
enjoying the full tonnage of its gold
the sun advances with debonair and
extremely bold steps there where the mind
that follows it is certain to reach fire.

Copyright © 2002 by Ned Condini. All rights reserved.

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