These poems are from a series of poems written in response to the life and work of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the controversial Italian writer, artist, and filmmaker, who was murdered in 1975.
In the smallest room of the Hotel Trastevere, Pier Paolo is brushing my hair. Gently he strokes the strands, careful not to yank through the tangles. His eyes travel over us in the mirror and I can tell by the set of his thinned lips he’s imagining the film’s final scene. Whether I live or die. His hands tilt my head to the left, to the right; he tucks the hair’s smoothed pieces behind my naked ears. And it’s his tenderness that makes me believe there’s a script to at least some of this; that in one version, the past lays its knife down and into our laps. I wrap my fingers around his wrist, move his hand to my bared boyish breasts. So that I can re-enact the start of my grief. He re-enact his. Before Rome. Before Italy. Before the first boy undressed and left. To look into the mirror, in Pier’s face, as in the face of another, to see the discarded dress, drawers open and emptied, the hairbrush set down. The camera begins rolling. Pier Paolo rewriting the lines.
There is a smell of toast burning and warm figs, sour cherry jam. I hear plates gently being set down. And cutlery. Pier Paolo is fixing us breakfast. For a long time I’ve lain in this earthen bed, the sheets creased as if still holding another body. On the pillow, a single strand of dark hair. Where am I? I don’t recognize the hours until the form of the window appears like an oncoming train, slowly, then all over me at once. The dawn glow becoming the spring I arrived when even days seemed like nights and the white fog of sleep brought only yearning for more sleep. It was then you told me people born blind don’t dream in pictures but in music and touch. The windows they dream aren’t what we call windows. I see now I was terrified to let your hands take me. I feared I’d forget it was you. Every time I felt pleasure, I hurt myself. Pier Paolo holds out a chair, hands me a napkin. He butters a piece of burnt toast, turns up the radio so that we hear Maria Callas singing Isolde’s final aria which at once turns us blood-red. As Isolde’s lover rises and then again dies, Pier Paolo walks to the window, opens it wide.
It’s 4AM and Pier Paolo is weeping and so I weep. We cry, but not really together. Each for himself, for herself. We hug our regret like bags of ice in winter. It is, I think, still very far from morning. The television is tuned to the Nature Channel, where we watch a mother fox turn in circles, her belly swollen with milk that nothing can drink. She’d consumed her entire litter. And inside the room, it’s beginning to rain. O bella ragazza della vita mia, Pier says in my ear. O little drunk drop. And the sound of the rain in my head could be the soundtrack of the fox on TV just like the shape of words on a page sometimes seems something else— a string, a string’s shadow, the eye that turns to unravel the way by which it arrived. How copious I imagine the vixen’s sorrow. How vast her desire to undo the last act. I know it’s impossible. But how can we say, nothing is possible, even now?
It’s morning again. Though not one of the hours tinged with daybreak. It’s an hour stolen from sleep, still full of lost souls and underground parking. In this scene, I wake in the basement of a department store. Naked mannequins and last season’s suits. There is the sound of men running above. I don’t understand why but I know to surrender means blood. Then, Pier’s voice, where have you looked? He wants me to hear. I know he hopes he’ll find me and, as Camus put it, I’ll fall in love if only to provide an alibi for all the random despair I’m going to feel anyway. He turns on the light, sensing my fear of dark places. I say his name, Pier Paolo. The first blow is always the most painful.
All roads leading to Rome were fast and black. The signs we sped by warned of falling rock, but we threw off our scarves, our hats, we let the air push its hands through our hair, the sun clap our cheeks. In the glove compartment, a gun, which Pasolini let me hold in both hands testing the trigger’s reflex. In the trunk, the body of Eugenio Montale. His poetry, too bourgeois for my taste, Pasolini said, with a grimace. Were we merry, were we furious? Neither was sufficient reason for how we were driving— the pines ripped wild by our storms and the muffled horns of the cars we sometimes forced off the road. Between my knees, the black spider jumped. All Montale’s pleas, muted and difficult to parse, had proved too late. In the car, we argued about spaghetti westerns and where best to bury the body. Pasolini pretended not to notice that sometimes I pointed the gun at him. I pretended that just because there’s a gun in a poem, it doesn’t have to go off. It was then the story turned real. We stopped for gas, which is when the attendant accused Pasolini of robbing him. Never mind he didn’t get out of the car. Never mind, the attendant sold the story for money. There was the gun in hand and in the trunk, the still-warm corpse of Montale.
Sarah Wetzel is the author of River Electric with Light, which won the 2013 AROHO Poetry Publication Prize and will be published by Red Hen Press, and Bathsheba Transatlantic, which won the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and was published by Anhinga Press in 2010. “After job-hopping across Europe and the Americas,” she currently teaches literature at The American University of Rome. However, she says, “I still spend a lot of time writing on planes, dividing time between Manhattan, Rome, and Tel Aviv, Israel.” Wetzel holds an engineering degree from Georgia Tech, an MBA from Berkeley, and she completed an MFA in Creative Writing at Bennington College in January 2009. You can find more of her work at www.sarahwetzel.com.