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This poem is taken from PN Review 230, Volume 42 Number 6, July - August 2016.

Five Poems

translated from the Italian by Todd Portnowitz
Lorenzo Carlucci
LORENZO CARLUCCI WAS BORN IN 1976 in Rome, where he now teaches mathematical logic at the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’. His road to poetry has been a strange one – a degree in philosophy from the University of Pisa, a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Siena and another in computer science from the University of Delaware – and his poetry is appropriately strange. Part hedonist, part ascetic, he records the woozy world with a sober methodology. As the Italian poet Stefano Dal Bianco describes his work, Carlucci ‘writes with the authority of one who’s understood that there’s something out there to understand, and fixes on it, trudging forward, flailing, like a sort of a Thomas Aquinas dressed up as Dylan Thomas, or vice versa’. All at once his voice is somehow colloquial, scientific, lyrical, severe, and comical. The form in which he most excels, with the dexterity of Charles Simić, is the prose poem, which features prominently in his two published collections, La Comunità Assoluta (Lampi di Stampa, 2008), and Ciclo di Giuda e altre poesie (L’Arcolaio, 2008), which together won him the Premio Speciale Ceppo di Pistoia in 2009; and in his forthcoming collection, with Camera Verde press, Sono qui solo a scriverti e non so chi tu sia.

The five poems translated on the right, taken from Carlucci’s latest book of poems, form a section entitled ‘Prose Poems for Olympia’. But what, or who – and when? – is Olympia in these works? Personified and modernised, Carlucci’s Olympia is somehow still in possession of history and location, still saturated with myth. Olympia seems to be all things to the poet but attainable: a stubborn, amorphous, Greco-Roman tension. The two are locked in a timeless stare-down, each daring the other to move. Yet despite the oddity of the whole proposition, Carlucci recounts this relationship with an almost frustrating naturalness and measure, as if philosophizing on a quite rational subject. And this is the wonder of his poetry: though the lines come off as almost mechanical, they are nonetheless insistently human, carefully recorded, deeply thoughtful. Carlucci is not merely stitching together found phrases or trying our patience with flat description, he is teasing the prose of the world into poetry. – T. P.

I mourn my time with Olympia, days spent by the sea, pine needles in the folds of our clothes, evening, the passing of time perceived like a plant’s inaudible growing, not like a sequent toil but like the motionless rearranging of grains of sand, into a homogeneity. And from the café I can see Olympia on the beach, and the space between us, and the time it will take for her to reach me, if ever she wants to, if ever she stops playing with the children and making small talk or just being preoccupied with the riptides, the time it would take for her to reach me, feet stirred by the scalding sand – already they’re filled with their own substance, or else with the air between me, who’s at the bar, drinking and greeting transsexuals, and Olympia by the coast, who has no intention of coming back.

This time and space, brief, are like a membrane, they’re filled already, already they’re the movement they induce, my touching of Olympia, if ever she decides to come over and give me a kiss, or if ever I pry my ass from this chair. It’s time and space, here by the sea, a distance already crossed, capacities already filled, already I’ve become my outstretched arm, same as my lazy gaze above a glass of orange juice, same as the soft and mysterious gaze of Olympia, who perhaps sees only the wind and not me, above my shoulder.

Olympia explains, as I drive along this interstate, the secret behind the numbering of highways. How ‘even’ means north-south, ‘odd’ east-west. How ‘even’ also means around, and ‘odd’ across. She also explains, without speaking, moving her smile like a cop’s radar gun along the circumference of the passing landscape, how the sensation of beauty we feel even in the completely anonymous stretches of our hometown is due in large part, and perhaps entirely, to the familiarity of these locations, a fabric of signals we don’t recognise openly, but that strike us as the keys of a typewriter strike an already written page. And I think then that there are poets who write as if typewriting onto their eyes. I smile, and I’m happy as a kid who reaches into the freezer to grab an ice pop but his arm is too short, clutching the hem of Olympia’s skirt between my fingers.

Olympia also says that seagulls are beautiful and aerodynamic and exacting in their flight patterns, exacting in their direction and aimlessness, exacting in their wilfulness and refusal. I agree with her, they’re beautiful, and they also socialise much like we do. Olympia also says that ducks are the source of the underwater chemistry of contact lenses and I think of us down in the sea, with one eye open, down in a lake on the hunt for prey, one eye always open, with a lens that forms to the eye, without burning or blinding it. Olympia is my prey, on the wooden beams that face the river, I’d like a boat to bring her to the centre of this body of water to the white centre of a seagull’s eye. But Olympia’s already distant and she’s jealous of the child’s pedalled contraption that’s barrelling down now toward the river.

[…] and maybe she’ll take my hand or maybe she’s waiting for someone else. Better to think she’ll take my hand, yes, she takes my hand and brings me on a walk, along the empty streets at night, she brings me to a place, or just to a time, in which there’s no pride or fear, in which there are no delays, she brings me to a time, or to a rhythm which is the rhythm of her movement, holding me by the hand, and with no defined expression, and almost without being there (such is the levity of her presence), she takes me walking on the asphalt, rain-soaked black like her eyes. Like her hand, the hand of a mother between the shoulder blades of her son, at a funeral, the moon is white just like her hand, white-skinned, on a face with cobalt blue eyes. 

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