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This poem is taken from PN Review 254, Volume 46 Number 6, July - August 2020.

Five Days in February Rachel Spence
Day 1

Unsayable time. Your quarried cheekbones. Milonga of footsteps clicking over the bridge outside my window. Two ill, in the Civil Hospital. Mainland towns in lockdown. My Whatsapp group of amiche silent.

On the bridge on the Fondamenta Nuove that overlooks the northern lagoon, a woman wearing a meringue of silk skirts and sequinned masque poses for a photographer.

The vendor at the newspaper kiosk tells me he’s from Bangladesh. I tell him my best friend S is from a Bangladeshi family. Bangladesh is a beautiful country he says but politics va male.

I don’t tell him that S’s uncle was imprisoned in Bangladesh for criticising the government, nor that S is currently organising a protest in London against the CAA laws in Delhi; that she is asking artists, poets, film-makers and writers to contribute texts and images that she will print on samosa packets.

The news vendor’s name is Roman. He has another name he says, much longer, but it’s too complicated for Westerners. I tell him my name changes to Rachele when I’m here.

Day 2

Time vibrates. Between us, particles of seconds so small we cannot say them, think them. We are never ever quite together. Knowing we share that distance brings us closer.

In the afternoon, it’s announced that carnival will be cancelled. Universities, schools, museums and churches all shut, My Whatsapp group mute. The city sealed in a ceramic blue shell as if inside a paperweight.

Before supper, I email my friend V, an artist in Delhi. Tell her I’m thinking of her while her city is in the grip of the violence against Muslims. V sends me a Twitter link to a boy being beaten. She writes: It will make you howl in pain not sure you want to see this, but as the writer, perhaps. I am so sorry.

I reply with a photograph of two rowers gliding down the canal alla valesana with crossed oars, moving like rhythmical gymnasts, the water a skin of teal cellophane. Tell her that the violence in Delhi has been eclipsed by the Coronavirus. An opportunity for governments and criminals to do their worst.

Day 3

Our imaginations individual as fingerprints.

I wake early to go to the supermarket because I am fearful of panic buying. The sun burns a nervous blue sky onto my retina. I think of the Renaissance painters. The popes and dukes who were their patrons. An age that believed faith was a matter of the eye as much as the mind.

Why did I think the Venetians would surrender to fear? They’ve lived through wars with the Turks, the French, the Austrians. They’ve suffered floods of tourists and tides that nearly subsumed them. The aisles are fully stocked; a handful of customers picking up milk, oranges, pasta, serene as fish feeding on coral.

Walking home, I feel guilty I have not bought my fruit and veg at one of the small fruttivendoli. So many have closed in Venice because of the supermarkets. I do my best to support them. But this morning, I was anxious not to be out on the streets too long.

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