If poetry can still tell us who we are

If poetry can still tell us who we are


Eron, Revolução dos Cravos, spray paint on wall, Pombal, Portugal 2018

The alarm clock rings. I open my eyes and, still, I listen silently to my empty flat. There are just the two of us left, at home. I am not used to these moments of loneliness. I am not used to empty rooms, and to chairs, always still, around the table. I do not hear the swish of worn coats anymore, the sudden slam of doors, the scour of brushes, nor the greetings from the opposite side of the corridor, nothing is left of the swarming of a boys’ house that wakes up.

There is no more urgency, no more rush.

I look out of the window after breakfast. The town breathes in the utmost silence, desert. The sun sets a white light on it, silent. The lecture on my laptop shows no sign of starting and so I almost casually open a book left on the table the night before.

This was my state of mind when I came across “Essere rondine” by Mario Luzi. In this way, on an ordinary quarantine day, a poem entered my life to shake it unexpectedly.

The poet looks at a herd of swallows in the sky. He notices that their flying is constantly interrupted as if it were tormented by a continuous gasp. He sees those small animals flying as if they sobbed, in the torment of a surprising dance, like a jet of water gushing out of the blue:

They overflow /(…) one/after the other (…)/ sliding (…)/ and here they throw themselves,/ (…) high up in the air.

Their flight is a flicker of compressed flame, an instinct, an energy that is impetuously spread, vehement but heartbreaking and hectic. You could not tell if there is pain/ or there is happiness (…)/ in that getting busy (…)/ in that whirl / of life inside its fences.

I think about myself, about my flat that day after day becoming a fence, and I wonder what it means to talk about freedom during this time. I think about our afternoons stuck at home and about the abs sessions done in the living room. I think about when I scream out loud under the shower or about the ashtrays to be emptied every day. I think about these animals, busy in their whirling, and I think of me, and what I miss the most. I think about what I call joy. What I call freedom.

Are free/ those souls/ but free to move/ at a marked rhythm… 

Their flight certainly does not seem unlimited. They do not glide resolutely and inexorably as a hawk dominating the sky. Their nature is a condemnation, I believe. They are incapable and, consequently, their flight is desperate. They are incomplete, therefore unfulfilled. I keep reading, and I realise that no, this is not what Luzi wants to tell me. And here the poem is lit up by an absolutely unexpected event:

This is their being swallows, / in that restlessness is their peace. 

Perhaps I understand. Their joy, their peace is in fully being themselves, in fully being swallows. The freedom of those beings is in being part of that nature of which they are made.

My God, how true is this! Many times I am the first one to be the author of this violence upon myself. Many times I would like to be different, better, more suitable. More dominant, more confident, more certain. Many times I have desired more freedom, more room, during these days.

And then? What will I eventually do with that presumed, entirely imaginary, freedom? When it comes, how will I spend my first “free” afternoon? When I can release all my compression, all that has been kept inside of me; when all that I want is given back to me, what urgency will win over the others?

What good will everything that I claim and miss, bring me, if I am not able to love my restlessness throughout this burden? What will I do tomorrow with all the room and all the friends in the world, if I cannot love who I really am now?

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