Carla Scarano D’Antonio
Dempsey and Windle
In a review of David Cooke’s new collection, D’Antonio talks about how echoes of the Italian Eugenio Montale’s poetry (which she has translated) ripple through and they do here as well. Especially in the opening poem ‘Pajarita’, an origami bird, which she folds and refolds:
‘it points forward now, flimsy
but ready to take off,
its sharp tips balance on my hand.
I’ll sent it flapping across the ocean
picturing our mind touching
like two hands pressing palms
and wait for you to reshape the bird,
send it back to me.’
Pointing at the major themes of her father’s death and her family. In section one we are shown the importance of food in bringing a family together to talk ‘about the day/how did it go, any news?’(‘Parsley’). We learn family recipes, how to cook and make the stuff that ‘fill our stomach’ but there is also something deeply disturbing going on. ‘The body has no protection/when the light dims’ and ‘who knows what you concealed under the lids.’ Life may be beautiful and D’Antonio turns her origami bird towards them and away from nightmares and shadows.
‘The mixture is alive,
grows in the heat of the oven,
a spongy edible thing
sweet and tender,
then cut and shaped in a lady-like cake:
cochineal lips, pipped cream for hair
and glossy hot pink dress.
The top is lucid with glaze and sprinkles,
(‘Only a cake’)
Part two is concerned with her father’s death from cancer and details day to day activities:
‘No cure, but the IV made you feel better.
You asked for ice-cream, espresso,
crackers with butter, soup.
Hoping your stomach would keep it.’
(‘At the hospital’)
You would expect more formal verse structures in this section to mirror the emotional restraint until you come across lines about ‘all the past beatings and shame’ and realise the inner turmoil that must be involved. Free verse captures this perfectly. I’m writing this on the day Dame Vera Lynn is being buried and I can’t help thinking of her singing about ‘blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover’ and ‘We’ll meet again’ which seem to meet in D’Antonio’s final line in the section ‘The sun is setting in a soaring blue’. The images in the final section are really sharp and wonderful. ‘your fingers smelling of resin and moss’, ‘walls sweat the heat of day’, ‘her face is a riot’ and the whole of ‘Walking through the seasons’, but here’s an excerpt,
The soup boils:
onions, leek and potatoes
soften and mash.
Comforting taste of fading memories
deepening in the moonlight.’
While it is easy to overlook the hurt that remains, D’Antonio ‘is a sealed volcano’ with the molten lava inside her ready to erupt. Even when moving to a new house she looks ‘down at the grey tarmac, a pool of flames.’
The pamphlet is concerned with the urge to commit to family life (despite the memories of past abuse), especially her daughter and the memory of the love of her mother ‘I’ll hold your hand walking the last steps of the journey’. Indeed, the whole pamphlet is a journey. It’s fitting the final poem (my favourite) reflects this and revels in the freedom poetry allows. Meanwhile this is a pamphlet she can rightly be proud of and I look forward to seeing in which direction her origami bird points.
‘We left with cherry trees blossoming,
people arranging polished horns
in a window.
Opposite to south
vegetation grew rusty,
gold, scarlet red
silver grey, brown.
branches torn bare
thorn. Torn, horn
Rodney Wood worked in London and Guildford before retiring. His poems have appeared recently in The High Window, Orbis, Magma (where he was Selected Poet in the deaf issue) and Envoi. His debut pamphlet, Dante Called You Beatrice , appeared in 2017. He is joint MC of the monthly open mic nights at The Lightbox and is also the Stanza Rep for Woking.