When I was a little girl I had a favorite book with color illustrations in it– on one page was a simple but fascinating picture of the Nile Valley. Next to it was a poem that began, “I should like to rise and go/where the golden apples grow…”*
I would sit with the book open for hours, rereading the poem, running my fingers over the painting. There were tiny tents, camels, white, swan-like horses and palm trees sprigged every where in lovely detail– and all made more enticing and mysterious by the pyramids and the Sphinx.
Around the same time I had fallen in love with the Arabian Horse; when we had money to buy something to read, I would buy a copy of Arabian Horse Magazine, and pore through those pages marveling at the beauty of the great horses of the day.
I thought that I would one day be an archaeologist– antiquity and tradition fascinated me. I was fortunate to live in old adobe houses until I was twelve, and I loved the haciendas. Our family on my mother’s side had an engraved lamppost in Old Town Plaza and for many years my brother and I played there in the bandstand and around the wishing well, surrounded by sun-cured walls with stories to tell of old New Mexico Territory.
As fate would have it, I became a poet and a horsewoman, and ultimately came by a series of beautiful white Arabian mares, culminating in a true diamond– a daughter of the great stallion GG Samir, imported from Spain by Wayne Newton.
My love for animals and place were bound up with each other and as time went on I lived out my dreams of farming/ranching in a history-rich locale– in Rush City, Minnesota, sharing a farm with a longtime love; living in the historic rowhouse neighborhood on Ramsey Hill in St. Paul; Wellington, Colorado one year, when I rescued and nurtured an old farmhouse on a rise from which one could see out to the Wyoming border. My companion of 21 years and I spent a year on the Joder Arabian Ranch in the Boulder foothills, the very place where Anna Best Joder had founded the Arabian Horse magazine I had so loved as a child. My mare Skyline Majesty foaled a gorgeous colt when we were there; I would ride out with the colt alongside, amazed that my dreams had come true. I spent a number of years interspersed between these adventures living in the historic areas of Fort Collins, Colorado, where I now reside in a seemingly nondescript brick fourplex that has its own brand of vintage charm.
From 1991 through 2009, with a few detours, Doug and I shared six acres and a home on the north end of Fort Collins. I populated our place with goats and dogs and horses and founded a bloodline of Golden Retrievers, raising twenty litters of puppies in as many years, steeping myself in everything related to my passion for the Golden.
But perhaps most influential on my muse was an adventure I had in the 70’s. While I was in Minnesota I was staked to a trip to Europe and fell in “love” in Verona, then taking a train alone down the coast of Italy to be with my romantic interest. He was a kind-hearted, loving Calabrese, Calabria being the southern part of Italy. His family welcomed me with open arms and while I mastered enough Italian to communicate with my lover and his sisters and mother, we took day trips to beautiful and unforgettable places throughout the region.
Accordingly my most dreamed-of and mythologized place, that I have longed to return to for years, is the spectacular seacliff town Scilla/Scylla, on the toe of the boot of Italy. When I was there in 73, nearly forty years ago and well before the region went through yet another crisis due to the prevalence of the Italian mafia for a time, it was antiquity’s crown jewel and unspoiled by expat migration or tourism. The Strait of Messina between Calabria and Sicily has been memorialized by the great poet Homer as the place where Odysseus was attacked by Scylla and Charybdis and pulled under, only to be saved at the last minute, his ship spat up by Poseidon.
In instances too numerous to count I have wondered how I could come by a little villa, one room if necessary, to be able to live in the lap of history, write in the cafes by day and laugh and talk with both Calabrians and expats by night…an idyllic life. I can think of nothing more exquisite than the old villas on the edge of the mythic Costa Viola. Scylla is pictured below.
That single trip, and the 8weeks I spent with my lover have generated numerous poems and a memoir, Nightfall in Verona. And, a novel I’ve put away to marinate so that I can return to it with fresh eyes.
Similarly, when I see again photos of the Southwest, old memories of the sheer beauty of old Albuquerque along the Rio Grande come back to me.
I have noticed that when I write from the heart and a sense of location, my work feels authentic. When I try to make myself write simply to be able to say I’ve written something for the day, I am not as fond of what I produce. The poems I like the best in my body of work have been written from a place of affiliation with a locale; a strong sense of place pervades them. Hence, for this writer, place, roots, tradition, history are everything. Please enjoy the following … and for more information on Calabria visit Michelle Fabio’s blog, Bleeding Espresso.
In her window, a basket of garlic reaching
for the sun. She broke off one of its fat cloves
and took the knife to it, using
the flat of the blade to mash the clove open;
Then she peeled off the papery rind
and there it was, sending its quartered
objections up into the air
of the kitchen, disempowered
I sat back in the shadows with my love,
her son Pepe; we sipped latte di mandorla
and watched Mama in her cooking dance
How she carefully took a beef knuckle
out of butcher paper,
put it in a boiling pot for stock, crushing
fresh tomatoes for the sauce. We kissed
And longing surged in us
and my love’s tongue was as tensile
as the garlic’s green
and I dared not touch the tendrils
of his desire then.
But later, spent and laughing after dinner
I kissed his garlicky mouth
and much later, we wept briny tears of rapture,
rising to walk the edge of paradise,
the lolling Calabrian phosphor
On the Strait of Messina.
I saw something arc in the air
and he said it was the pesce spada,
In rising-moon ardor.
I said within myself,
with my poet’s heart,
thinking of Homer’s stunned walk
In this very place, that is the mermaid-gorgon
Scylla herself, exulting
in the tide that forces garlic-stricken lovers
into each other’s arms at all hours.
Soon I boarded a train away
from Momma, Papa
and the babies lolling in everyone’s arms
at dusk in the kitchen.
Many years later,
there is no trace of them now,
not even anything legible
in a book of names,
As if I had conjured all of it
from thin air, my indoctrination
into a hard, polished love tinted
by flash in the pan anger,
Like the pink water-laved stones
one finds in the surf–– la famiglia’s
work-weary and serene
faces as we walked the garden.
This is what I remember
now, all of them cloistered
in simplicity and resolve
like the purposeful garlic bulb,
In the window basket–sublimely
sheathed in undaunted light.
The last time I walked
I played with a golden dog
carefully inching sideways
down to the slope to the creek,
unrolling the training lead
while she plunged in overjoyed,
her tail a semaphore in the rain of light
The last time I loved
was in the stillness of candlelight
fingers brushing my nipples
unfastening silk strings
hands running down my thighs
I was strong and flexible in my joy
the taking into my body
of an errant golden boy
lost in the same ways
in the aftermath
holding his head against me.
The last time I took action on a dream
was to buy a white mare huge with foal
lugging redolent mash—
flaked corn, grain, molasses
down to the corral
where she stood in dangerous beauty,
waiting for me, eyes round and dark
And the last time I yearned as deeply
as one may yearn
there was a seahorse floating
in the night of my womb
whose name I dared not speak,
A tiny and uncommon thing
that slipped from me
a dream gone back to grass
a personhood absorbed by night
the kiss of a far existence
a fluttering away into thin air.
And the last time I made a record
of an uncommon life
is this time, of an index of illuminations
in a house gone to ruin
moths in the window sills, in the cool
silences of morning
Brought awake by the imperatives
of language, mind burning
in the crumbling house of a body,
launching myself in my walker
out through the bedroom door
turning down the sibilance of the radio
To hear the swell within
of, you could say
the lyrical nature of living on
in spite of a surgical failure
to weld my bones together:
In making myself try
to walk again however I could
the weight of daily life curved my leg
like a scythe, until like anything
going from water to land
I became other than I had been,
a tilted person
one leg shorter than the other, a rudder
attached to a once comely woman.
I go out now
Into the fires of daybreak
throwing the walker
into the back of my car
to see the mare down the way
come to her feet
newborn paint filly sitting up
in amazed languor
emerald field populated
with similitude and otherness,
each mare with an undaunted foal,
dancing into life.
*After reading my post, friend Lori Blair furnishes the poem I refer to– from A Child’s Garden of Verse, Robert Louis Stevenson —
I SHOULD like to rise and go
Where the golden apples grow;—
Where below another sky
Parrot islands anchored lie,
And, watched by cockatoos and goats,
Lonely Crusoes building boats;—
Where in sunshine reaching out
Eastern cities, miles about,
Are with mosque and minaret
Among sandy gardens set,
And the rich goods from near and far
Hang for sale in the bazaar,—
Where the Great Wall round China goes,
And on one side the desert blows,
And with bell and voice and drum
Cities on the other hum;—
Where are forests, hot as fire,
Wide as England, tall as a spire,
Full of apes and cocoa-nuts
And the negro hunters’ huts;—
Where the knotty crocodile
Lies and blinks in the Nile,
And the red flamingo flies
Hunting fish before his eyes;—
Where in jungles, near and far,
Man-devouring tigers are,
Lying close and giving ear
Lest the hunt be drawing near,
Or a comer-by be seen
Swinging in a palanquin;—
Where among the desert sands
Some deserted city stands,
All its children, sweep and prince,
Grown to manhood ages since,
Not a foot in street or house,
Not a stir of child or mouse,
And when kindly falls the night,
In all the town no spark of light.
There I’ll come when I’m a man
With a camel caravan;
Light a fire in the gloom
Of some dusty dining-room;
See the pictures on the walls,
Heroes, fights and festivals;
And in a corner find the toys
Of the old Egyptian boys.
copyright Jenne’ R. Andrews 2012 All rights reserved.