Poem of the Week | December 06, 2011

This week we’re proud to present a previously unpublished poem by Taije Silverman. Silverman is the author of Houses Are Fields.  Her individual poems have been published or are forthcoming in Poetry, Ploughshares, Pleiades, The Harvard Review, and elsewhere.  She just finished a Fulbright Fellowship in Bologna, Italy, and she is currently the 2010-2011 W.K. Rose Fellow through Vassar College.  She lives in Philadelphia.

Author’s Note:

I wrote this poem while living in Rome’s Jewish ghetto and reading about Tommaso Campanella, a poet-monk imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition.  I had also just seen an exhibition on Galileo, and I was surprised by how Galileo’s faith had inspired his scientific research.   Both he and Campanella (who had spoken in Galileo’s defense) were as unflinching in their religious convictions as they were intent on investigating the universe, and this combination of certainty and curiosity struck me; I wanted the poem’s tone to mimic it.

The exhibition also included a video of an astronaut on the moon, dropping a feather and a hammer and watching them fall at the same pace as he said: “I guess one of the reasons we got here today was because of a gentleman named Galileo, a long time ago.”  Tenses are so willing to converge: my own present, the astronaut’s recent past, and the far past of Galileo and Campanella who almost seemed to have imagined the future into existence, with its moon trips and widows in deck chairs.

Take It Everything

The light before nine at night in the Roman ghetto

is a light we would find beneath lakes if like fish

 

we could live without lungs to pump air.

God might have made fish to be heavy as lead,

 

said Galileo, but he wanted to teach us about ease.

Families have gathered at outdoor tables

 

to eat warm cheese on warm bread with their fingers.

An old man in an apron smiles like several fields

 

to an old man with two bills in his hand.  This for me?

asks the man in the apron, tossing up English like fruit

 

that he’s just learned to juggle.  This for you,

is the answer he’s given: Take it, everything!  

 

In Italian there’s a tense for a past so far past

that most people forget how to use it.  It’s a tense

 

for a past that has no direct link to right now.

600 years ago in a prison beneath a castle

 

built into the bed of the Bay of Naples, a monk

spent three decades in water that reached to his knees.

 

For ink he squeezed blood out of cockroaches

to write: The world is a grand and perfect animal

 

and: Each piece of dirt is alive.  With deck chairs

they drag from their kitchens at dusk, widows cluster

 

on bricks that are lit with the light inside lakes.

Their bodies are certain as books.  He could have built

 

bones for the birds out of gold, Galileo explained, and made

their veins of living silver.   The old man in an apron

 

sits down at my table, says: Here you are welcome,

whatever you want—you are guest of the house tonight.

 

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