What the Tree Trunk Said

Part 1

I don’t know what kind of tree it was or where it came from. Clearly, Hurricane Nate brought it.  Maybe the hurricane took it down and threw it into the sea. Maybe it was a fall from some other time that dislodged from its resting place in the current of so much water and launched downstream. If I were to guess, I’d say it probably floated to us from the south because hurricane winds seem to me to blow from the southwest. Although, I don’t know. This hurricane was like no other, and I wasn’t here. It was early October 2017, and I was in Milan in the middle of my own hurricane.

I came home to Tamarindo, a stunned widow, in November after five months that lasted five years. The sky in Tamarindo had cleared by then, the electricity was restored, fallen limbs were cleared away, and it looked almost like nothing had happened. I might have looked that way too, at first glance.

I went to the beach to gather my thoughts a little, and when I saw it, I froze and sucked in my breath. In the middle of the beach on the rock reef that juts out into the water, where tidepools form at low tide and fishermen toss their lines, was the dead body of an unimaginably enormous tree. The force of water needed to throw this giant up out of the sea onto the rocks is inconceivable. And yet there it was.

And there it stayed.

I thought surely the next 10 foot tide would move it, but no. Or maybe the next tropical storm system. But no. All of us picked our way across the sharp lava rocks sooner or later to have a look at this marvel. Tourists took their picture beside it. Novios carved their names or initials into it. It became part of our landscape, part of our story.

From the first moment I saw it, I felt a strange affinity for that tree trunk. I think it’s weird that at essentially the moment Pio died, a hurricane unleashed on Tamarindo. I’m not trying to connect the two in any direct metaphysical way—I promise I’m not. But in my mind, the two things are absolutely connected. Nobody who lives in this town will forget that hurricane. And neither will I.

I stared at the trunk of that dead tree on my beach walks. I felt sympathy for it–both of us, hurricane victims. Both of us washed up here in Tamarindo, waiting to see what happens next. Both of us getting pared down by sun, wind, rain. Both of us in the middle of the water, sand, and sky. I felt like if I could get a good photo of it, it would be my self-portrait. What is left of a giant thing after it is destroyed.

I’ve lived at the beach long enough to know that tree trunks, no matter how big they are or where they wash up, don’t stay there forever. Eventually another hurricane comes, or a big swell or a hard rain, and they move. Sand shifts, and they sink and are buried, only to reappear another year after we’ve forgotten where they are. I hoped I didn’t meet up with this giant in the surf the day it dislodged, that it wouldn’t harm any of the boats anchored nearby, depending on which direction it took when it rolled free.

Part 2

In September 2019 I went back to Italy. I already told you about that pilgrimage disguised as a vacation, so I won’t make you read it all again. It was an important trip and marks a turning point of some kind that I have not yet identified. I came back in the beginning of October, lighter in more places than just my wallet.

I went to the beach to gather my thoughts a little, and when I saw it, I froze and sucked in my breath. Impossible: my tree was gone. A September storm must have dislodged it while I was gone and took it away. I knew that eventually it would move, but I thought it was still to big and too heavy.  I thought I would watch it go.  But it both came and went during my two important trips to Italy.

While I was trying to fit that into my surprised mind, I saw something else that stopped me again, and right there under the mid-morning sun in front of God and everybody, I burst into tears.  Up ahead of me, the giant tree trunk was laying on the sand.

Out of the ocean, from its place half-in half-out of the water, onto the dry land.  I knew immediately and without a doubt that there is a message for me in this. And I knew exactly what it is:

If two years is long enough to move a fallen giant like me, it’s long enough to move you.

 

That’s what the tree trunk said.

Sometimes I agree, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I feel like no amount of time is long enough. But I always beg for clear messages and one thing is for sure: that was a really big tree.


Together

A Poem to Name a Book After

That’s what I think of the poem “Certain as Afternoon,” the title poem of my new book.

The poem is about the beginning of the end–about death, but not about the moment of dying. The poem is about the moment death is born and no one knows it. Like quiet rain in the night, and you wake up and look out the window and say, “Hey look! It rained in the night. I wonder when? I didn’t hear anything.”

In the poem, there is a “we.” The “we” is me and Pio, of coruse, but it is also any other “we” in the world. In the night while we are sleeping in our room, something else enters the room quietly like rain in the night. No one knows the moment it comes. But when we awaken in the morning it is there in the room with us, certain as afternoon.

Because the one thing you can be sure of in the morning, on any morning, is that the next thing to arrive is afternoon.  And when the end has begun, it’s arrival follows as naturally as afternoon follows morning.

 

Certain as Afternoon

death came quietly
like rain in the night
no one knew the
moment it began

there was no thunder
no lightening
when the sick cells
began to divide then
send out seeds

when we woke in the
morning
it stood in the
room with us
certain as afternoon

 

Certa Come il Pomeriggio 

la morte cominciò a formarsi
silenziosamente
come pioggia nella notte
nessuno sapeva il momento
del suo inizio

non c‘erano tuoni
nè lampi
quando le cellule malate
cominciarono a separarsi
ed a disseminarsi 

quando ci siamo svegliati
al mattino
era lì in piedi
nella stanza con noi
certa come il pomeriggio

Available Now: CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON / CERTA COME IL POMERIGGIO

My new poetry collection, Certain as Afternoon, is now availble on Amazon.com, Amazon.it, Amazon.es, Amazon.whatever.

Mia nuova raccolta di poesie, Certa Come il Pomeriggio. è ora disponibile per ordinare su Amazon.com, Amazon.it, Amazon.es, Amazon.tutto.

I love this book. I love the terrible story it tells because it’s my story, our story. When stories are all you have, you’d be amazed how much you can love them. A lot. They don’t have to be pretty. Certain as Afternoon covers about a year and a half, calendar time. Which equal about 7 eternities in real life. I didn’t write the poems as the things happened; I wrote them later. A thing has to get done happening before you know what it was. All you can do while it’s happening is hold on for the ride.

Adoro questo libro. Adoro la storia terribile che racconta perché è la mia storia, la nostra storia. Quando le storie sono tutto ciò che hai, è incredibile quanto puoi amarle. Tantissimo. Non importa che non siano belli. Certa Come il Pomeriggio racconta la storia di circa un anno e mezzo, tempo di calendario. Equivalente a 7 eternità nella vita reale. Le poesie non le ho scritte quando accadevono le cose; le ho scritte più tardi. Una cosa deve finire di succedere prima che tu sappia cosa fosse. Tutto quello che puoi fare mentre sta succedendo è rimanere aggrappata.

If you helped me translate this book, please don’t order it—I will get one to you.

Se tu mi hai aiutato a tradurrre questo libro, per favore non ordinarlo—ti lo regalerò io. Se tu sei nella famiglia di Pio, non comprarlo. Ti lo vorrei regalare.

This is how we begin:

Si comincia così: 

New Poetry Book Next Monday / Nuovo Libro di Poesie Lundì Prossimo

Certain as Afternoon / Certo Come il Pomeriggio is ready for you. Next Monday, one week from today, I will post a live link to it on Amazon.com, and you will be able to order it. The price is $10. It will also be available on Amazon.it (if I understand correctly) for anyone in Italy who wants to purchase it. I have not made it an ebook at this time because, honestly, I don’t like ebooks. This book, especially, wants an actual physical body.

Certain as Afternoon / Certo Come il Pomeriggio è pronto per voi.  Lunedì prossimo, a una settimana da oggi, vi darò un link per farvelo trovare su Amazon.com.  Il costo è $10. Sarà anche disponibile su Amazon.it (se ho capito bene) per chiunque vorrà acquistarlo in Italia.  In questo momento non l’ho creato come ebook perché, onestamente, gli ebook non mi piacciono. Questo libro, in particolare, vuole avere un corpo fisico.

Cover design in progress


Eternity, At Least / La Eternità, Almeno

The Dying Man Refuses Clothes / L’uomo In Fin Di Vita Rifiuta i Vestiti

A poem from Certain asAfternoon/Certa Come il Pomeriggio. First in English, following in Italian.  The sample copy of the book is here and is being edited now.  Watch for a live link this month.

The Dying Man Refuses Clothes

in this poem
the dying man
refuses clothes

we try to cover him
with a towel
a cloth

he pushes it
away
he wants
nothing

he is not ashamed
of dying
or being naked

the sisters-in-law
in the poem
turn away

the doctor comes
into the poem
to reason with him

the dying man
asks for
lemon ice cream
smiles with his
teeth and
deep dark eyes

 

L’uomo In Fin Di Vita Rifiuta i Vestiti

in questa poesia
l’uomo in fin di vita
rifiuta i vestiti

cerchiamo di coprirlo
primo con un asciugamano
poi con un lenzuolo

lui lo respinge
non vuole
niente

non si vergogna
né di morire
né di essere nudo

le cognate
nella poesia
voltano le loro facce

arriva il dottore
nella poesia per
ragionare con lui

l’uomo in fin di vita
chiede
gelato al limone
sorride con i suoi
denti e i suoi
occhi scuri profondi

 

Certain as Afternoon / Certa Come il Pomeriggio
coming without a doubt
in arrivo senza dubbio

Whole Fennel/Finocchio Intero

This poem, from Certain as Afternoon, is a the story of a day.   I talk to myself in this poem, explaining to myself what happens on the day Pio is in the hospital for tests, and he calls me to tell me the bad news I have already intuited. Why must I tell myself about it? Because you have to explain things to yourself over and over as you try to understand, open, make room for everything.

In Certain as Afternoon, the voice in the poems moves around.  It switches between pages from first person to second and to third.  The voice speaks to me.  It speaks to you.  It speaks to the one who is dying.  Sometimes the voice speaks to the poem.  Sometimes the voice becomes the poem.  It sounds complicated, but really it isn’t.

First in English, dopo in Italiano.

 

Whole Fennel

when he calls you
on the phone
from the Policlinico to
tell you he is
dying, you say
alright
and
i’ll be there soon

then you go to the
park and walk,
order the trees
not to let you
cry. you don’t want
him to see you with
red eyes and
puffy lids

you stop at the
mercato for his favorites
prosciutto crudo and
whole fennel

it isn’t going to be today,
anyway

at the hospital you will
sit together at a
table in the sun
eat sandwiches

share fennel and
both wonder
if it is true

 

Finocchio Intero

quando lui ti chiama
al telefono
dal Policlinico per
dirti che sta
morendo, tu dici
va bene
e
arrivo subito

poi vai al
parco e cammini,
preghi agli alberi
di non farti
piangere. non vuoi che
lui ti veda con gli
occhi rossi e
gonfi

ti fermi al mercato a prendere
i suoi spuntini preferiti
prosciutto crudo e
finocchio intero

comunque
non sarà oggi

all’ospedale vi
siederete insieme ad un
tavolo al sole
mangerete dei panini

condividirete il finocchio e
vi chiederete
tutti e due
se è vero