Davide Trame is an Italian teacher of English, born and living in Venice, Italy, writing poems exclusively in English since 1993; they have been published in around four hundred literary magazines since 1999, in U.K, U.S. and other countries. His poetry collection as a downloadable on-line book was published by www.gattopublishing.com in 2006.
Because of its length we are publishing this narrative poem in our short story section.
In The Desert
“When you think that you lost everything
You find out you can always lose a little more
I’m just going down the road feeling bad
Trying to get to heaven before they close the door.”
And she came into the teachers’ room.
The windows reflected the asphalt world outside,
the few trees planted around to hide
its asphalt soul, the glass, plastic and stone
you can quietly feel in your bones
in the surrounding halls filled by the students’
laughter, hysterics, clamours of jokes and rage,
flocks of stamping feet and gazes on a stage
of long corridors with a low ceiling made
of flimsy plaster like the perfunctory whispers
and mixture of gossips and civilities teachers exchange
in a corner, a plastic glass in their hand, their gaze
on the fluorescent labels of the coffee machine
in those minutes within minutes when they assess
their work’s hardships and few bits of success,
the students’ sprightly smiles swaying to and fro
besides, stinging with ethereal glee the grey tiles
and the stinginess of the neon lights.
And, at a quarter past one, the bell ringing,
and a huge stirring and screeching in the classrooms
and booming on the corridors, doors opening
and the flock reversing on halls and stairs,
the red-rimmed central doors gaping wide
and the tight crowd scattering towards the car park
where at last you could see the leaden electric
silvery gates opening and the students’ backs
and rucksacks and various shades of blue jeans
scattering towards home’s horizons, down there
on the blocks of flats, on this or that side of the railway line,
down there, in the afternoons of their prime time…
while at a quarter past one of that February day I knew
I had to wait for the usual boring teachers’ assembly
in my afternoon, it will be a time sitting and gazing at a long
green-carpeted desk and the ritual face behind the microphone
in front of a crowd that is ritually going to gossip or read a book,
grade papers or doze and wake up, eventually, with a joke.
But it’s only a quarter past one by now, numbing time ahead
to spend before the assembly, two hours or more
( “And Tiresias had foreseen all this before…”)
And she came into the teachers’ room.
But who was she?
Blue eyes juxtaposing in my mind to my wife’s
after her departure, in the desert’s grasp
when the land loomed and everything was a wound
in the waste of time after. My wife gone,
consumed in a few months by the claws of cancer
leaving a cloud of seeping silence as an answer.
Silence, the grip of an absence reducing voices
to a tinnitus, or glass vibrations, whims of nuances,
hollow rounds of poises and stances.
The Waste Land can be absolute and simple.
Loss leaving only the naked thin air on the asphalt.
So, who was she? She who came into the teachers’ room
an instant before I left. I was going to the usual bar
for my little lunch, getting as ever my small table in the crowd
of wealthy bank employees sleek with self-confidence
while having grilled food in waves of radio music and ads,
same stuff to pass the time, old Beckett’s time,
(allow me this), my boot lightly kicking the table leg
trying to adjust its eternal wobbling, my hand
on a glass of Prosecco, the other fidgeting with
the plastic box of paper napkins.
But she came into the teachers’ room just an instant
before, and you know how instants can determine
ages, or at least, as in my case, the next trickling
terrible ants of days and months.
So she came in and said, with a sidelong
sparkling glance, -I don’t feel well,
I don’t think it’s a good idea to go
to that restaurant with the other colleagues,
come to my place instead for a pasta…
well, seconds got sprightly at once and forward they ran
and I didn’t think she was playing the Good Samaritan,
I just felt her as a sudden close presence in my desert.
I said –no, you are tired, let’s go to the bar,
we can have some toasted sandwiches and talk-
and by God I needed to talk, after the sea
of silence that kept churning in me, waves
lapping the desert, erasing breaths and shades,
leaving the nakedness of an arid plain.
So we got to her car and she drove to the bar.
A big table this time, in a corner, for just the two of us,
not much crowd, not much music, or I simply
didn’t hear it, didn’t look, taken as I was by my talking,
touching that centre of myself held so far in a sway,
with ashes, rain, memory and silence, gone astray.
She looked concentrated and moved by listening
to bits of my life, sparks erupting there and then,
words out of nothing, soul’s fireworks, details
made picturesque by enthusiasm, with some
exaggerated touch, ribbons and confetti of life, contacts,
sketches of criss-crossing love scenes and disappearing acts.
She listened, piercing blue eyes at my side,
for two hours spreading stretches of breathing sky.
And I simply started fancying her,
there and then, or a little later, only the gods know,
those who like buzzing bees under shade after shade trim
patchworks of matters and gestures on a whim.
Sexy and sober, she soon became image and mirage.
And I, a minor Orpheus, started tickling my lyre,
simply wishing to see her again, having no clear
purpose in mind, maybe to be me, a marvellous next time,
the one who would listen to her and get absorbed
in the warp and weft of another life, so I dwindled
on the school corridors at break, in the reverberating
clamour and found her standing like in a niche by the wall,
in her tight jeans and high heels, a thoughtful face,
a turquoise and dark glow in her gaze heightened by
the low ceiling and perpetual neon light on the grey tiles,
I asked her if she would move somewhere less noisy and stifling,
just for a chat, why not, outside. Outside: a continent too far away,
I was soon to discover, she said she wouldn’t move, sorry,
that was her place, register in hand, coffee machine at hand.
I said well ok…anyway I would be happy to see you somewhere
some day, any day, maybe for a walk and maybe, maybe-
shyness seeping in me in the disorienting clamour of the break-
in my city, in Venice. Her eyes cleared for a just a moment-
the northern gloom left them leaving a blink of Mediterranean blue
and a flash as if she was caught unawares but –Venice, she said
well, maybe, but no, I am not all sure.
Well, she had only come into the teachers’ room
and we had gone to a bar for lunch, that was that.
Talking at another break, small talk, as ever,
it was clear she would never come to Venice but
I found a way to continue with her in the next months,
it’s hard to know, was it obstinacy, endurance, courage?
Love? Was I just ineluctably pervaded by an image and mirage?
I asked her if we could meet for a lunch somewhere
nearby after school, she said yes that could be done
and in the meantime I was still Orpheus playing my lyre
in the distance, that meant sending her poems, comments
in text messages and emails, trimming lines in the vacancies
of skies and seas of Sundays while walking in the mountains.
I tried to avoid her at school where I felt time passing,
trickling and sliding in the lingering of small talk,
time: either too still or just fleeing, its chariot “hurrying near”.
And spring arrived, and May, in its prime of heat and lush
grass and acacia’s breaths and poppies, the year’s great blush.
When the desert is more desert just because it blooms
and loneliness, in waves of plains and buds, looms.
I talked occasionally with a friend, and walked alone
and tried to mend the broken pieces of myself and home.
Emptiness is simple, in its eternity of seconds, each gap a trap
and when you are weak it’s just poison what you attract.
The poison of absence. I was wounded by gaps,
pierced and transfixed by the acacias’ breaths,
memory and desire in the long wake of a spring hedge,
May sky spangled with the gaps of what might have been
which, yes, pointed to one end, the present, and slashed me.
I texted her repeatedly on a Sunday, it seemed texting was
what we had agreed upon to decide where and when to meet,
and she answered after a long gap, wrath seeping in her lines
“I told you” she wrote “to stop texting, it’s a children pastime,
with all the problems I’ve got I can’t deal with your silly voice…”
so, reading this in the lush grass, I was Orpheus in an instant
snatched away from its lyre, scoffed and mangled by the first
moment’s Maenad that was passing, I felt May heat
in the silence of the Maenad’s sharp stare and teeth
and I was emptied and thrashed about in May bounty,
the sky, a far cry, an estranging fist of blue among the leaves.
Somewhere a woodpigeon was continuing its litany,
reality, I thought, the quiet, harsh lull of what has to be.
The sun shone. I phoned her, walking along
glistening patches of mud, my steps as fast as my heart,
when she said hello I heard in her voice annoyance and mourn,
I asked: “ By the way, have you assisted, you too, someone going
to that country from whose bourns no traveller returns?”
She didn’t answer and the next day I shouted to her
on her class doorstep : “You have no right preventing in that way
someone from talking, bloody hell, you have no right insulting…”
Well, it’s easy to let one’s sky spiral out of control, I knew
I hadn’t after all much left to lose, so I could allow
myself to brandish my useless lyre and rave and shout…
After the row she stopped speaking with me, when she saw me
she turned her head the other way, the grey school stairs
became the stage of this further absurd play, until one day
she crossed my gaze while I was coming down and suddenly said,
her eyes struck by a sunbeam: “I must talk to you, I want
to listen to what you have to say, on Tuesday ok?”
And went up the stairs, black hair, tight jeans, and high-heeled shoes,
(but Tiresias knew already, once more, even if he pretended not to…).
Tuesday came, the school halls criss-crossed by the acacias’ breeze,
I met her on the landing and she said “I have forgotten the teachers’ party
today, let’s make it another day…”I said: “I thought you knew it…”
“No, I didn’t but…after all, what have you got to tell me?...
I think I can imagine…it’s out of the question, I’ve got a boyfriend”.
And she hurried up the stairs: “Meet me tomorrow at the school door
after the classes, if that can make you happy”, her voice full of contempt.
I walked outside and went along the ridge, by the river, alone,
a choir of cooing woodpigeons surrounded me. The sun shone.
The teachers’ room. Desert now in the June bloom.
Diminished by the fist of noon.
Now I know there is going to be
just summer and silence, the plain and the sea.
And later, swallows at dusk
bustling in the blue and violet sky,
soaring and spiralling, reaching one another
shrieking while touching and scattering,
the sickles of their wings cutting through the air
patterns of chance, while absorbing my stare.