A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 16 September 2015


I've been walking on the Via Francigena through northern Italy . . .


She lies down among the rice fields.
Little frogs jump on to her watery roots.
She smells sweetly of summer's decay.

At night she rests in the poplars.
Her skirt of leaves shivers in the wind,
Catching the moon's fragmented light.

She disappears through cracks in the parched canal,
Then reappears, rustling through the maize.
But you cannot see her and you never will.

She eats and drinks with the peasants,
Her red lips sucking the spaghetti,
Her slim throat gulping the wine.

In the piazze she talks with the talkers
But remains silent with the silent.
Her business is nobody's and everybody's.

In the churches she prowls everywhere,
Sullen as a mastiff,
A black goddess on the wrong side of God.

She is the breeze on the pilgrim's face
And the sharp stones beneath his feet.
She bruises and soothes, kisses and bites.

She is the heart of the risotto,
The loaf of bread, one slice for each.
She is the peach, the plum, the fig.

She hangs heavy over the campagna
Like a hot blanket 
Pressing and comforting my brow.

Why can't I do without her?
Because she's part of me now
Like sunshine and rain and caffè macchiato.

She fishes with the solitary heron,
Also mixing with the sociable ibis and egret.
She is faster than the hawk, more cunning than the fox.

She might be in the cascina or the cantina
Or in the vineyards on the hill of Pavia
Or on the banks of the Ticino or the mighty Po,

And if she's not here, she's there,
And if she's not there, she's gone,
Gone into the blue bowl of the sky

Or somewhere on that limitless flat plain
Of rice and beans and ruined farms
And lines of poplars anchoring the horizon.


Susan Scheid said...

Beautiful poem, Robert, a poem that has the spirit of walking in every line. You've been in my thoughts particularly as of late, as we've been planning a trip to Portugal next spring. For part of the time, we'll be staying in the Rota Vicentina area, which includes two long distance paths, one coastal, the other called "the historical way." I don't know whether the latter is officially a camino, but it is described as "seeking to re-establish the old trail that would have been used by pilgrims, travellers and locals on their journeys throughout the region." We'll not be able to do long distance walking, but we will take walks in the area that include these routes, and we're very much looking forward to it. I say all this as your walking and the way you write about it are inspirational to us in planning such a trip.

The Solitary Walker said...

Why, thank you, Susan — I'm so pleased you liked the poem. It came straight from the heart, and all the references are authentically Po valley: baking hot, harsh but lush, flat with little shade, sodden and frog-laden and mosquito-ridden. I felt the secret of its austere beauty kept eluding me, like a mysterious woman who was continually several steps ahead, constantly disappearing. A woman who was both hard and soft, cruel but kind — the very spirit of Lombardy.

am said...

Just taking a few minutes away from my new work as a self-employed medical transcription editor. Thank you so much for this poem at this moment. How does it go? We do our best thinking at 3 miles per hour. I agree with Susan. A beautiful poem. I've been walking every morning before I sit down at my laptop. Good to know you are out walking again. I love this time of year. Hope to hear more from you. Have missed your posts.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I love your poem too Robert - it does capture the spirit of the Po valley - an area Malcolm and I visited several times. Lovely to hear from you.

Bouncing Bertie said...

I'm not familiar with the Lombardy region but a piece of me was there, reading your lovely poem.
All the best,

Nick said...

Interesting work - very evocative of a region that fascinates me (but which I don't visit often enough, relatively close though it is to where I live).

Ruth said...

Impossible, and perfect, just the way I like em.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks Amanda. It's good to walk. Hope your new work is going well.

Hi Pat, Gail, Nick and Ruth. Thanks for your comments!

Anonymous said...

I was reminded of Lawrence Durrell's poetry - not stylistically, necessarily, but probably just because you're nearer the Mediterranean.

Anonymous said...

amazing poet

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Anonymous!