Antonio D’Alfonso

 

Copyright Photo: Elisabeth Pouyfaucon

 

(Canada)

 

 

 

Babel

 

Nativo di Montréal

élevé comme Québécois

forced to learn the tongue of power

viví en México como alternativa

figlio del sole e della campagna

par les francs-parleurs aimé

finding thousands like me suffering

me casé y divorcié en tierra fria

nipote di Guglionesi

parlant politique malgré moi

 

steeled in the school of Old Aquinas*

queriendo luchar con mis amigos latinos

Dio where shall I be demain

(trop vif) qué puedo saber yo

spero che la terra be mine

 

 

(*James Joyce)

 

 

 

Apatride

A musical composer, a painter, a sculptor, anything but this: a writer. When I come to my desk and pick up my pen, I never know what color of ink to use, which dictionary to look into, what history book to copy. I wish I were someone born in a land which has seen his parents and grandparents working on that same piece of land, eating its fruit, building houses and bridges that always come back to the point of departure. But I was born to travel, to move without end from one house to another, crossing bridges to other shores, always a tourist, envying strangers tilling their land, building their houses and bridges. I am an eternal pilgrim who will never say: Me voici restitué à ma rive natale.*

 

 

(*Saint-John Perse)

 

 

 

The Loss of a Culture

 

Not the trip to a land where words are pronounced as you were taught to pronounce them. Not the adage your grandmother serves you at dinner. The language you speak as a child, flushed down the toilet bowl. Your mother-tongue sounds as foreign to you as any language you do not understand. Forgotten as the life-style you once had. Latin engraved on darkened school desks. What do you tell yourself when you find yourself alone at night? The uneaten bread becomes stale. The avoided meeting of a one-night stand, dreadful. Squashed tomato on the floor sinks into the tiles of your perfection. You forget the past but the past will not forget you. You sit on broken chairs and get cramps when you are about to say something intelligent. If you collapse and smash your head on the floor, it will not be from lack of proper diet, it will be your ancestors who will shoot you from behind.

 

 

 

On Writing

1

Writing as memory. Writing also as a means of paring down reality to its essence. Writing which disclaims, whispers, breaks down. A way of speaking even when speaking entails narration. A narration necessitating expansivity, coloration, complexity.

 

2

Language a thing that contains itself. Not all language contains a priori memory. It may contain nothing at all. Language is overburdened with itself. It is energy propelling the user of language. Whether he likes it or not.

 

3

Language is never neutral. It expresses propagandistically what meaning a people has filled language with. To write is to remember the voices of your people, the voices of those who came before you. It is also a parameter reminding you of what can and cannot be done to your language.

 

4

To write is to remember. It is a memorandum of what you do to language physically.

 

5

No two people use language in the same manner. No two people use the same language in the same manner. These dissimilarities establish nations. The quality of being different is a matter of praise, not discrimination.

 

6

I can imitate the style of another writer. I can only emulate the stylistics expounded by writers of a certain era or century. In the end, however, I will find myself alone in front of the blankness of language. For language inevitably loses all its memory when it falls into the hands of a writer. Especially when the writer uses a language that is not his own, that is not the language of his people. Difference.

 

7

To record what I do to language: the impulse that pushes me to write. I write with the memory of one language in mind and express this memory in another language. It is the marriage of memories. I cannot write disregarding the Italian words I use to describe to myself the dazzling panoramas of man’s command of nature seen from the heights of Guglionesi.

 

8

Even Italian is a learned language for me. Language of the North, it is not the language my thoughts got formed in, nor the music I hear in my head at night when I cannot get to sleep. Already a transformation occurs: from Guglionesano, I must translate into Italian. When I write I translate. Sometimes no translation occurs. The words or phrases come directly into English or French. A linkage of differences.

 

9

A need for bondage and not assimilation of memories. A passion. A blind passion. An untempered impulse seeking science to carry it through pleasure. The sexuality of writing. The nonlinearity of the languages I bind together.

 

10

I do not break the natural flow of language purposely. It is the way language comes out of my body. Like breath. I breathe this way normally. When critics scorn my writing for being rigid, unnatural, I feel as if they are criticizing me for the way I breathe, for being the way I am.

 

11

Writing is intrinsically radical. What makes writers different from one another makes writing evolve, enriches the memory of a language and, ultimately, a people.

 

12

I am not American even though I find myself working here. Too often ashamed for being someone who stands out from the crowd, I have come to accept my difference. I am what I am and seek to express myself in the manner best attuned to the way my own flesh and bones express themselves. This, is my style. This, is the odor of my language.

 

13

I write to capture and describe the experience of not having language solidify itself inside me. The fluidity of language. Language as liquid.

 

14

If writing is memory, it is amnesia for readers. Why read a book if you keep the books of other writers in mind? Does a lover keep referring to other lovers when making love? The present moment as only truth. Reading: an exercise in forgetting.

 

15

To forget not only what comes before the book read, but also the line immediately preceding the line read. To question what one does naturally. To name one’s style.

 

16

What interests me is not the naming of what I do as much as doing what has to be done. Writing is the memory, the analysis of what has to be done. Like video: writing captures and describes without theorizing on the thing captured and described. For writing to exist, it needs to be named afterwards. This is the work of the critic. No writing without the critic. The critic solidifies the fluidity of language.

 

17

To write, but also to analyze. To write, and to be read. Without the eyes of a reader, writing does not exist, cannot become memory.

 

 

 

Amore

 

They threw me out of my house,

they dragged me left and right,

from one room to another,

from one country to another.

They changed my name,

they cut the curls from my hair.

They laughed in my face

because I did not dress like them,

because I did not speak like them,

because I was neither white nor black.

They forced me to work

for a pay-cheque worth as much as spit.

They made me scrub washrooms

in factories, hospitals, cemeteries.

They raped my grandmother, my mother,

my sister, my daughter, my granddaughter.

They raped my father, my brother, my son.

They insured me, reassured me,

they fucked me good.

They put bread in my mouth

and told me I stole it.

They robbed me of my furniture,

money, job, wife, and children.

They sent me to school

to learn the meaning of love, money, and work,

they sent me to university

to learn how love, money, and work were absurd.

They gave me a diploma

for losing my mother-tongue and history.

They taught me how to speak, swear,

study, steal, work, and think

in their language and history.

They took my meal away from me

and replaced it with bread and water.

They told me I was no one,

they told me I would find myself

in them by being like them.

They told me I was dead,

they told me you were dead,

they told me you were not mine.

They sold me drugs so I could forget

the color of your eyes, the softness

of your skin, the warmth of your bosom.

They told me you were a whore,

a crook, a drunkard, an addict,

a hypocrite, a terrorist, a religious fanatic.

And when I called them the names

they had called you,

they spat in my face.

 

But it took just one look, one kiss,

one caress, one night beside you,

to rediscover myself

and understand what I am all about.

Now if they ask me my name,

I take the ink from your earth

 

and beside Antonio D’Alfonso

 

I sign Amore.

 

 

 

Welder

 

Joe Pass plucks guitar strings

that lift the spirit from its stool:

wanderlust bust on a rooftop.

Pen in hand, I look quite foolish

slouched here trying to file smooth words

and fit them in a meter that follows

no one’s heartbeat. The gray-drift day

is happy. Workers, sculptors

with wizard fingers, hammer the frame

of our shed faster than I can glue together

a few images meant to bring warmth to my love.

Dad, I should not have listened to you.

As they say, school’s for the birds.

There’s more meaning in being, like you, a welder.

 

 

 

Dear Parents

 

Jugar, this is how, in 1190, Raimbaut de Vaquieras named the joker who tried to seduce married women. Back then people spoke a pluricultural language, a popular idiom (which I prefer to the word  ‘vulgar’). Volgo: he who does not belong to the elite. In spite of your wish to see me belong to the elite of the continent, so well protected at that, I still consider myself a failure, an outsider. Unable to speak any dialect properly (not Guglionesano, not Tuscan, not English, not French), I am a writer without a voice. I have neither language, nor alphabet. You must forgive me for turning out to be an impostor. I am the dumb joker of kings and queens. The few books I have read on the subject have taught me that Itaglia was a more unified country when it was divided. Had the master of the land sat himself more often at the table of his serfs, he would most certainly have helped write a history book with a happier ending. During one of the suppers, a new sort of passion would have risen and would have overturned, like tables, the social classes and religious differences. Conjectures. This morning I am honored to be sitting at your breakfast table, tasting the music of your language that no poet has ever codified with the rules of the written word. You have no idea what sadness I feel knowing that the day you pass away, our language and history will die as well, for me and your granddaughters, my daughters, who love you so dearly. Which reader will I then seduce without our dialect?

 

 

 

Exile

 

Every woman, every man, every second,

A needle between thumb and index,

A hammer in the hollow of the hand,

Fingertips on the handle bar,

Logos of wishes flashing through the clouds,

Every day, every girl, every boy

Meets this curse dropped

From the sky onto the body.

This private banishment is collective.

Not to flinch would produce unease, panic.

Pasquale Tarasco pulls a waltz out of his accordion

On the corners of Cuvillier and Hochelaga.

Agrocities are alike everywhere.

The paths, furrowed by the boots

Of Signor Raspa, his mule has trampled on

For a thousand years. Sarcastic hatching.

The breeze works its emotional havoc.

‘Do not divide our mulberry fields in two,’

Cries the Pizzi family, on their knees in church.

The landowner in the meantime undresses Ilda,

Naive gatherer of eggplants.

The pig abounds in the master’s trousers.

Do not wince, no. Yes, do wince.

The olive tree bends under the pressure of indecisions.

The bulge is no small feat

Before the goddesses of poverty.

Fast food slow food no food at all.

Vittorio and Carmine’s departure

Has turned Gino into a rich man at the station.

Much more than bricks on his backs.

Everyone’s story ignored by everyone.

The workman’s milk spreads into a star

On the tablecloth, and without working papers,

The constellation waits to be named.

Saturday weddings are wanted,

Multicolored, the widow’s kiss diaphanous.

Breaking windows might be a welcome,

Sings the song of protest rising from the porch.

Repeat it, yes, repeat it, no, as you wish,

For there are criminal heads the size of cantaloups.

‘Ciciri, change your surname.’

‘Ciciri,’  the Vespers scream.

‘Ciciri, vendetta’s switchblade.’

With such injustice,

With such a police force of lawyers,

With counterfeit tickets,

Giacomo counts himself lucky

To be among the living in prison.

On his face someone drew a large D in red.

Sixty percent of land

Belongs to 113 families.

Exile, the serf’s modus vivendi.

Angelo is frightened of those

Who never fly south for the winter.

Mario tries hard to catch Maria’s glance.

In the end both get bored of their eyes

They memorized for not looking.

Beware of couples that

Never leave their homeland.

Adamo’s surprised there aren’t more

Nomads on planes.

Run out quick, donate to charity.

Organize vagabond transportation.

Public faith crushed

By sham truths stuttered in alleys.

Dissension becomes impossible.

Every girl, every boy mistakes

The home for a blessing.

The neighbor steals computers viewed

Through the clothes hanging in the sunlight.

Let us leave our cottages.

Let us exchange passports.

Let the wind roll its wave

That will not sink

In the quicksand of privilege

For the native born.

Let us jump on our horses.

Let us climb aboard our ships.

Let us breathe

When suffocation begins.

 

 

 

Bob Dylan

 

Feeling like a stranger nobody sees.

Bob Dylan

 

Bob Dylan, the poet?

My mind wanders back to Robert Burns,

Famous for his requiems dedicated to his Nordic peoples.

I think of Homer, Virgil. I hear the anxiety

Of men and women in their murmuring.

I hear Léo Ferré, Georges Brassens.

You insist that poetry is Stéphane Mallarmé, Nicole Brossard.

But it is also Paul Verlaine and Leonard Cohen.

I raise my glass to the poetry of song.

Not my intent to reduce poetry to rhyming verse,

Nor condense it to a list of impressive names.

I testify to a rhythmic syntax of effigies

That jump outside margins anchored by concepts,

Paper scribbled by ink for the pleasure of eyes only.

Song imitates the glorious everyday voices

Of daughters, sisters, mothers, and fathers.

I envy the poet who blends music to painting.

Words bend with his salutary bow that delivers,

In the emergency room of scorn, love unleashed.

No light shines immediately. Doubt questions facility.

Syllables refuse to stay imprisoned to a keyboard.

The voice trips out, breaks, develops into an image.

It is fiction fused with the heartbeat of society.

When I listen to Zimmerman, I hear telluric chanting

Crash against the indifference of the sky.

The most precious of moments is to awaken

To the singer’s call for presence. And so

I swirl, joyous, under the influence

Of this blue-eyed bluesman,

Solace for my human stupidity.

 

 

 

Allora Gino

 

To Gino Chiellino

 

And so, Gino, tell me what have we unravelled

In this brightness we were looking for?

Not that the luminance we left behind was

Darkness. Such a comment would be

In bad taste. Let us agree then that one

Never leaves a town for lack of light,

But for the quality of its light source,

For the virtual image which seems stronger

Than the glow from the candles

In our hands, we are like blind Tiresias,

Half men half women, with children,

Attractive, healthy, educated, by our side,

As we walk towards a large screen

Emptied of its convictions.

The wallets we find on trains

Belong to our grandfathers.

We express the obvious.

I have come to accept that departure

Is elicited neither by suffering nor politics,

But by biological necessity.

The unavoidable impetus toward

Imperative change.

The subtle pre-human drive toward

The unknown, toward what has no name,

Toward that moment of intimacy

Shared by lovers standing in the middle

Of a square in a foreign town.

To declare that yesterday was

Prison and today liberation

Would be a lie. Nothing more disturbing

Than the final hour that awaits us.

Yet here we are. ‘Where?’ you ask.

I can’t say. Here? I have no idea

What that means. By laughing,

By weeping we crossed

The river in one piece. Without affliction.

Don’t ask me to describe this train station

Where we share a tea, a handshake, a good-bye.

We are where we are supposed to be.

Tomorrow is the step that follows the preceding step.

A gearing forcibly grinds forward

Regardless of our awareness or will power.

You pull open the shutters. Blackbirds greet

Your awakening with their good morning.

Alms are never a nuisance.

This is the price we pay when we choose

To embrace and welcome foreigners.

To procrastinate behind closed blinds

Sours a meal, turns wine to vinegar.

Listen to soldiers thundering for us not

To touch the brick of the sacred wall.

Between the wrapping and the tile

A hole through which friends confer.

Chatterboxes bicker at sunset.

Impossible for them not to recognize us.

The transfigured word is a bell.

Friendship is a star on our forehead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________

 
BIO

 

 

Poet, novelist, essayist, translator, Antonio D’Alfonso has published more than 40 titles and has made three feature films. He is the founder of Guernica Editions which he managed for thirty-three years before passing it on to new owners in 2010. For his writings, he won the Trillium Award, the Bressani Award, and the New York Independent Film Award for his film, Bruco. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. In 2016, he received a Honorary Doctorate from Athabasca University.

 

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