HYMNS IN BEREAVEMENT, WITH SOME APLOMB
A toast to this wine, at lunch time, Chardonnay, a French brand for these Venetian sandbars. A velvet taste, mellow, soft in its conscience of sand.
Because it’s sand, sand-bar and sand-stone where I stand. Venetian land.
Bits and pieces of mud covered by a crust of grey rectangular stones. “Massive” stones, “boulders” in Venetian dialect, to prevent feet and life from sinking, which is so easy, like by drinking.
Grey stones, the colour of the rhino’s skin on which Clare enjoyed pressing her thumbs once, or of old bones. -O Clare, skin, stone and the sea of a stare.
Stones for steps. Good for a pair of leather soles in late Sunday silence. Or Monday dawn.
In all the hues of silence, from desolate to elated.
Taste them all now in my time, in the velvet of this wine.
A toast to the market where I buy it. Half a dozen stalls, white tents on the grey rectangular stones. A toast to the five-litre jugs of wine and, nearby, the clementines. Sold near home on this land’s rim, among dim, massive buildings built in the thirties by railroad men. But my house was built before, see it alone, surrounded by vineyards “at the year’s turning” and fields with king’s horses and king’s men.
Let’s toast this pageant then when the grass sang on this skirt of land.
Let wine moisten and mellow time. In silence, or listening to some bottleneck blues, by the buzzing fridge, on a micro-hi-fi.
Let’s toast the wine-glass itself, the last of the “tribe”, the other members got broken, as everything, in time.
And let’s start with the glass toasting the swirling ghosts it brings about, the grip of the past, the pressing rush and stare of its blood. I stayed in the car when Clare and Eileen went to buy the glasses in a bright store of a Croatian border town, two sizes of glasses, a smaller for the schnapps and a bigger for the wine, delicate and thin, with round, elongated shapes. I had seen them first, the “couple” of glasses, by the sea, on a row of still desert tables in a street of polished white stones. Shiny. Like the strength of memory.
The rush of the past. Air’s blood. What streams in this here-and-now. A current of hearkening eyes.
Clare, the first. Like the county, if you like, safe soil you always need to come back to.
And what you need and look for to begin with.
Because we need beginnings most of all.
She was Circe in the spring to begin with, with a red velvet jacket and trousers and clogs from a Sloane square shop. Bell-bottom trousers. Let’s toast all the prime bells that rang in those squares.
The first, Clare. Straight to
Let’s toast the fire of the past. The night of the fire too in that early spring when we met Eileen. Fire, the determination of chance, a wild and weird but soon settled new stance.
Two blasts and the flat on fire just above us. We rushed down, Eileen coming down from the top floor had knocked on our door in a terrible hurry, that’s how we came to know her.
In that calle among
Then, for days, the smell of burnt debris, sweetish, fat, for the whole spring and summer transfixed in the heat .But let’s toast it all the same, that smell in the sun, because it cemented a friendship. In the sky’s warp and weft. As long as time would allow it.
Fire. How the past lasts in the heart. And the ashes of the thereafter. The strength of dust. I toast dust and air. And I toast the music of silence, I dust with it my stare. The clustering and scattering of dust like the valves of memory. What is present and gone. And streams forward. What can sing: “ Ain’t giving up” at once finding the right chord, what can sing silence with its wishes and swords.
Clare, fire of a life. Bride. Enwrapping sky. I drink to her now, at her table, her tablecloth of sea and tall ships. The waves of her eyes at the window. And the sea of a plain I see beyond the hedge. Where yes, it’s sweet to drown. I swim in there, eyes wet and wide.
Who could toast the way she went? Snatched away by the growth of an unknown? It’s a feat to spend the rest of a life to accept that moment of no more breath.
Clare, blades now, of diamond sun on a desert winter plain; those houses down there, a street, a market, the perennial dogs barking, it’s all silence to me. I drink to her blinking shadow and to the small, soft, all-encompassing palm of her hand in mine. Let’s toast silence and touch. And skin in the memory. Let’s drink to my being sublunary. I cannot admit absence. Who can?
Me, and Eileen helping, massaging her. Her swollen legs in bed. Clare, a bed in a corner where she could even find the strength to recover. For a bit. Steps on the corridor. Waiting for news, grabbing the nurse’s wrists. Trying to intercept the doctors. Reading in haste, before they spoke, their lips. Life. Drop after drop of intravenous feeding and intravenous fire trying to kill the other life. Cells. What we all come down to. Cells. How can we comprehend, probe, their sparking routes?
I cannot toast her leaving so soon. But wouldn’t it, any time, have always been too soon? I cannot toast the so fast “that’s it”. My glass in mid-air. Mid-air: some of us just end up, like that, in mid-air. Not a single, satisfactory answer and no continuance. Listening to the bird of the moment. Like now, to a woodpigeon, its eternity of coos going up and down. Or yes, or like the other bird which said “Go, go, go…human kind cannot bear too much reality…”
There’s a lot to bear anyway. Anyway our lot. I raise the glass from mid-air and drink to my lot swimming in her. Anyway.
But when it happened I wasn’t there. I had left for a break. Eileen was there, she had said: “I won’t leave her, not for a moment.” So, the moment. Eileen phoned me: “Clare has stopped breathing, you must come”. I remember I thought and maybe I said: “What for? For a body? Now only a body. That was that. Everything was over. Nothing was any more here or there. Clare was elsewhere.
But I went. To kiss Clare’s forehead, her body without her. To gather now the fist of the empty land. Night and winter. How vast and close. And empty. The land. Could vacuum you, the emptiness. But it didn’t. It stayed simply there. The hospital, the stretch of hills, the plain, the skinny trees, the windows filled with frost. Clare’s cold forehead. And a Christmas tree on the corridor. Irony? Which depths of bare reality can I toast? Where was she gone already?
I went through the motions. The funeral. It was crystal clear that no word would sound appropriate, nor any act, from now on. Maybe only the quest, from myself to myself, for a pure stare into her and silence.
But let’s toast absence. Let’s defy its no-sense. My glass from mid-air to the sky. Which knows about disappearance. Soon I stopped seeing also Eileen. The cause: a quarrel with her rude man maybe: “I don’t deserve rudeness-I said. Don’t make me see him anymore”. Well, she was tough, it’s what she did. She didn’t make me see him any more. And herself too.
Absence. From Clare onward. From vacant into the vacant.
Eileen became just emails for a few days. Then nothing. Easy. A cloud covering the sunlight and the pool was empty. Easy for any body to become a memory.
A toast now to the grip and knot of what is not. My Chardonnay’s mellowness is good at softly probing into absence. You need softness to interrogate the quintessence of nothingness. And why not, a bit of drunkenness too. In a lasting year’s longest night. Starry and piercing.
Later, in the larvae of light at the end of winter I came to know
O I am singing that, repeating it twice as in the blues : “The knot of what is not”. The knot, stretching the “o”. Bob Dylan’s style. O Clare, you found the blues mainly boring. And maybe you were right. But it’s like day and night. Day and night. The lull of their might.
Let’s toast this almost stranger and the bar where I spoke to her. Let’s toast anybody’s stream of consciousness and soliloquies, rivers in the crowds of silence. Riverrun.
At the end she was just raw silence.
No eyes on the strand.
She too came down to be just a series of emails essentially. Just letters on a screen like now. Let’s drink all the same to letters, syllables, assonances, sounds. And silence letting them be and be extinguished in time, round and round.
But no matter. Let’s drink to all poetry striving for texture, defying illusion in any mirage, in any resounding dime, in each single letter.
My glass from mid-air to the sky.
And the bottleneck blues going on, on the micro hi-fi. Some same notes stinging and swinging.
How much anything, even in absence, is just sameness and recurrence?
But Clare yes, you were right saying “ And so what?”, when you listened to the blues. “And so what?” Now I say, myself too, and raise the glass all the way.
Davide Trame is an Italian teacher of English living in Venice, Italy and writing in his second language since 1993. His poems have appeared in magazines since 1999.