The translator reads to a packed room.
The rise and fall of Italian suspends me,
the beat of one poem staccato,
another rounded like elbow or bowl.
The crowd is silent, wine glasses
placed on the floor, a napkin of cheese
left to sweat—
A cosa mai mi ha servito l’esperienza?
What good has my experience ever been to me?
In Florence I share a bunk-room.
The hostel is off the main drag
so I drape my washing in the window to dry.
I take a picture of myself dressed
in dark brown wool. The caption will read: Me, Italy
as though it might make me different.
On the street a man places his hand
in the small of my back and guides me to a stall
where kid gloves are lined with fur.
Although I don’t understand, his voice
convinces me to buy two pairs.
The translator holds up the volume and spreads
the pages to show a painting of a woman
in war-time. Clothed in a bathing costume
she holds a red ball that mimics the line
of her back. I wonder if the poet Saba loved her,
writing from the corner of his antiquarian bookstore,
earplugs blocking out the war.
The birds at the window, the shutters
drawn to: an air of childhood and of summer
that comforts me.
In the colonnades of the Uffizi I find the painting
but she is smaller than I expect. I feel knowledgeable as I note
her overly long neck and unnaturally sloping shoulder.
A young couple take a photo of themselves
in front of her curved body. I stand and remember
imagining standing here.
He reads a final translation—one of the poet’s
late works. The woman next to me shuffles
as though her thoughts have moved.
A vivere pago a piccole cose onde vivevo inquieto un tempo.
To live content with small things where formerly my life was restless
The shop attendant raises her shoulders in a shrug.
I find the single shelf of English books by myself—buy one,
hunger for it, read it twice, wake with it open in my hands.
Over the phone your voice has a short delay and the quick-slow
of conversation mingles your words with mine,
their beat a morse code calling me home.
Colourful facades pen in tourists as they line up
beside the fountain. Neptune guards the ancient aqueducts
as Abundance trickles water over his feet.
A woman blows into her hands:
the coin arcs through the air before sinking.
Sarah Jane Barnett
This poem was part of my MA thesis, of which Paula was the external marker. Whenever I read it I am reminded of her, and of the constant generosity she shows New Zealand poets. Paula has been a steadfast supporter of my work, and her poetry for both children and adults an inspiration … ‘words floating around in the air sweet notes to lift like a bird.’ Paula, I wish you the happiest of birthdays.