I have been you, you have borne me, and I have lived you, yet you tore me
still I have sought you on my knees… in the whooshing willows on the Thames
in French flamingos and blue flames
in blackberry bushes on childhood routes
in fancy teabags, endless flutes
and in landing somewhere different, each time a different flavoured fig
never an August flavoured purpleness, nor a stone-squashed almond
in a lizard’s moving tail and endless books lost in the mail
I have lost you, countless times, in nights of winters never mild
unseen snow and seasons gone wild, no traditions, no lonely seagulls
no coloured band nor secrets in cathedrals
and I have mourned you, countless times, memories strewn within
a Christmas mass in Venice, a June coloured street,a sprouting lettuce.
I rejected your golden oils, your blooming fields
your swarms of heat donning geographical heels
I take the Vatican in the light of May, the Uffizi and a trail of names engraved
with doves alternating between a victory spade, or a different artist’s head each day
the shadows that fall from Siena Cathedral,
a swirl of fog and terracotta, a sunshine (if feeble)
dawning on coloured houses and endless roads
each with their own pride, as horses strode
and Mediterranean alleyways, whispers a century before me
dried tomatoes on terraces, octopus shaken on the sea
And every watermelon grown in fields?
each August hail and medieval shield?
the colours and the coasts, the crypt in my hometown?
those islands inhabited and ghosts in blinding white houses, their Matera crown?
well, they all led me, again, to Italy.
blackberry bushes on childhood routes = These are roads on the way to Barnes, in South West London, where along the river I used to pick blackberries
Christmas mass/ a June coloured street = Refers to a Christmas spent in Veneto with my family; the June coloured street is part of the Burano island, off the Lido, and the way my little brother referred to it.
crypt in my hometown = the bones of St Nicholas, preserved in Bari’s cathedral.
fancy teabags, endless flutes = Formal hall and the first few Oxford weeks, lingering still in evenings spent in other peoples’ rooms (often ending in drinking expensive tea).
fog and terracotta […] as horses strode = Siena’s Palios sees horses striding through its circular piazza racing against each other, each one representing a different set of alleyways. The town itself is a shade of terracotta red.
French flamingos and blue flames = Provence family trips, where a fire started behind in a field only a few metres away from a flock of flamingos: the vicinity of the lake made the flames seem blue.
geographical heels = An allusion to the fact that Italy is shaped like a boot – the heat reaches the Southern area mainly, hence the heels being affected most sorely.
ghosts, blinding white houses and their Matera crown = A lot of the towns in Southern Italy have a ghostly appearance about them; such is the case of Matera, in Basilicata, which has been abandoned mostly for a long time. A two in one description of small towns painted entirely white: my father’s hometown, Ostuni,known as La Citta Bianca (the white city) is similar to Matera in appearance.
nor a stone-squashed almond / a lizard’s moving tail = The way my brothers and I would open almonds would be to select a flat stone and smash it onto the almond itself; this also applied to trapping lizards to keep them as pets, often having the consequence of them losing their tails
octopus shaken on the sea sea = a traditional way that the people of Mola, where I grew up, soften octopi flesh – slamming it against rocks
trail of names engraved […] a different artist’s head each day = In Florence, as they often also do on the heads of the saints in St Peters Square, doves sit on the heads of dozens of the literary or artistic figures that have had most prominence in Italy, all located along a single, wide corridor decorated with columns, outside the Uffizi Gallery
whooshing willows on the Thames = The trees around the boathouses where I used to cycle in the winter in Oxford