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.