Archive for #portasanpancrazio

Bad Poem/Good Poem

Posted in Scotland, The Blog with tags , , , on July 7, 2019 by chateaucone

I wrote a blog post last night—almost 1000 words—and then I figured out that most of it was the missing piece of an essay I’ve been working on—that I put aside because I couldn’t figure out what was missing—and now I have no blog post. But I do perhaps have a better essay. And you, dear reader, are going to have to wait to read it until some lit mag takes pity on me and publishes it.

(The original blog post had a lot of misery about leaving Scotland. Seriously. Like a teenage breakup. If I’d kept going I’d have burst into bad poetry. Consider yourselves spared.)


The Forth Bridges, flying away from Edinburgh

I’m in Belfast now.

I have this thing where I hate any city I visit the first day I’m there. This is perhaps worse if I’ve just left a place I especially love, and didn’t want to leave.

My journal from my first day in Rome—July 2005—is full of, “OMG. This was a huge mistake. I hate Rome. It’s hot and crowded and confusing. Why did I think this trip was a good idea? Blah, blah, blah, self-pity, self-pity, self-pity, homesick, homesick, homesick.”

By the second day in Rome, I’d found the Porta San Pancrazio, looked out over Rome from the Janiculum Hill, and read one of my favorite poems about that very spot, on that very spot.  This was pre-iPhone-that-works-in-Europe, but I had the poem in my journal and my journal in my pocket.  “The sun high above a winter Rome is jostling the purple smoke with bare rays.” Joseph Brodsky, “Porta San Pancrazio.” Of course I went back in December, on my way home—my last stop before leaving Europe that trip—and tried, unsuccessfully, to photograph the purple smoke above a winter Rome. But it didn’t matter. I’d fallen in love with Brodsky’s Rome.

And tomorrow, at the Giant’s Causeway, I will fall in love with Northern Ireland.

Here is the whole poem. I read it in The New Yorkerin college, back when I only sort of got most of the writing in The New Yorker, but thought I was really cool to have a subscription.

Porta San Pancrazio

The bees haven’t buzzed away, nor has a horseman galloped
off. In the bar Gianicolo, old-timers enjoy their salad
days, and the ice cube melts, cooling the ailing motor
grateful for sipping twice the proverbial water.

Eight years have scurried by. Wars have flared up and smoldered
families crumbled, scum bared its teeth grown older;
airplanes fell from the sky and radio mumbled “Jesus.”
the linen can still be washed, but the dermal creases

won’t yield to the gentlest palm. The sun high above a winter
Rome is jostling the purple smoke with bare rays. The cinder
reeks of burnt leaves, and the fountain is glittering like a wobbly
medal pinned to a cannon at noon for its aimless volley.

Stone is employed worldwide to keep memory captive.
Yet cropping up is much harder than vanishing in a perspective
running out of the city straight through the years and further
in its pursuit of pure time, devoid of love and future.

Life without us is, darling, thinkable. It exists as
honeybees, horsemen, bars, habitués, columns, vistas,
and clouds over this battlefield whose every standing statue
triumphs, with its physique, over a chance to touch you.

–Joseph Brodsky, 1989