I do not consider myself a poet, but I enjoy reading poetry (more and more), and I have dabbled in writing it. Several years ago I took a couple of wonderful online workshops with a poet in Washington State, Sarah Zale. One assignment involved writing a poem from a visual prompt. The prompt I chose was a postcard in my collection, a black-and-white photo by Mario Giacomelli (1925–2000), a self-taught Italian photographer whose work coincided, in time and emotion, with the gritty Neo-Realism of cinema directors Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. He did a wonderful series of landscapes—high contrast, minimalist, almost abstract—which occupied him from 1954 until his death, as well as a series documenting the everyday life of seminary priests, I Prestini (Little Priests, 1961–63). The photo I chose was in the latter series.
I recently reencountered the poem. It has promise. I think I'll continue to work on it.
We see them down here in the village from time to time,
in twos and threes,
cassocked ravens in shiny black shoes.
One carries a spiky armload of baguettes,
the second flagons of Chianti, encased in humble straw,
the third—if there is a third—
a scarred brown leather satchel,
out of which kraft-papered parcels peek, tied snug with twine.
They waft in from another world
My father grunts and hurries us to the opposite curb,
mutters about dogs and babies and hypocrites.
The cloth bag holding onions, tomatoes, and meat for polpette
knocks against my leg; I try to slow my pace,
to walk more evenly across the cobblestones,
so as not to bruise our meal.
I have ridden my bike up the hill, to the edge of their universe,
peered through the fence and seen them walking,
heads bent into their books.
As they walk, they speak:
Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam—
To God, the joy of my youth.
Deus, tu conversus vivificabis nos—
Turn to us, oh God, and bring us life.
Oramus te . . . Kyrie eleison—
We implore you . . . Lord, have mercy on us.
To my ears
the Latin words
are lead prunes
falling hard and coursing a path through the dust.
One steel November day as I cycle down the hill,
snow begins to fall—
flowing out of the sky
cloaking the land in sudden white.
When I reach their fence, I hear shouts.
And there, in the swirling flakes:
whirling black dancers, arms flung to the sky,
shiny black feet slipping and sliding,
out of control,
carving joyous patterns.
They embrace one another,
link arms, kick up cassocked legs.
Alleluia! they cheer.
One stops, and a voice lofts upward, jasmine tenor:
Ave Maria, gratia plena . . .
The others stop too, turn their faces to the sky,
pink tongues thrust out of wide-open mouths.
I tilt my face up also, open my mouth.
Snowflakes whirl and spin,
full of grace.