reflections upon ‘of roman parchment’

Since some of you, my dear readers, have expressed a liking for this piece, I felt impelled to say something about how I came to write it.  I would also say that my experience has been that the pieces I have written that have gained most response, are the ones I understand least myself as to where they came from and why they were framed in the particular images they are.  I post it here below for reference:

of roman parchment
a Marco, poeta e traduttore

i saw
a wind of olives
clung to the
heard the
leaves a rain
of finest silver
come through
the dark greenness
along the branches
splaying out
like broken roads
that traced the
i saw you,
mother, in the
time of lords
and ladies the
pheasants grooming
down the air
with their
you wrote me
a letter with the
quill of one
a simple letter
of tears and
and wished
me well.

june 2013

Looking back at how I came to write ‘of roman parchment’ the feeling I have first is of watching from above trickles of water isolated from each other running down a fabulously overgrown mountain flank; the lower these little streams run, the closer they run to each other and there at the foot of the slope, under the shade of trees through which I cannot see from up here, they twine together into a river that shines out there in the distance on the plains of Umbria.

I recall the motive: the passing away of the mother of a friend, Marco Prisco. Marco’s parents were Italian migrants to the UK, and he is a fine poet and a lover and translator of Dante living in New Zealand.  I have been assisting Marco on and off (and of late mostly ‘off’ it seems) in editing his translation of ‘L’Inferno’ from Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’.  I do not know why, but the image came to me that day, in thinking about the passing of his mother and of my own the year previous, of his mother strolling among a gathering of lordly men and women of Renaissance Italy.  I saw in my mind’s eye pheasants in flight settling around these lordly figures as they picnicked in the fields among the autumn hay, and felt in mind the swoop of the pheasants’ trailing tail feathers as they came to earth.  I remembered then the exquisite excitement whenever I spotted a pheasant fluttering across the dry hay of the paddocks up from where we lived as children.  The look of that dry yellowing hay too is yet another ‘trickle’ that is somewhere melded into the poem.

The opening image unravels into those myriad times in the two and a half years I spent living in Greece of watching the wind stir the branches and overturn the leaves of the olive trees fluttering in groves; that switch of light back and forth from dull dark green to grey, the splay of branches, and how the branches of the oldest trees are propped up to prevent collapse. The olive trees I saw too in Italy are yet another run of thought twining into the piece. The cobbles of the first piece of the Appian Way, the long ancient road to Rome and how they gleamed in the lowering sun through the buildings of the port of Brindisi have a goldening trickle too down that slope joining the others.

Born in a country of rain, I feel no need to explain how it too has ‘leaked’ into this piece, gathering in a rush of sound as it comes down on the leaves; I feel the showers I was times caught out in among the olives of Crete, the olives of Samos, Naxos and the Peloponnesus.  The more now I look, the more trickles and streams I see and the harder it is to write of all their gathering of thoughts, memories, those earliest perceptions that gave rise to them all.

I settle now to conclude by looking at the ‘quill’.  As a child the idea of writing with the feather, a ‘quill’ seemed eminently suitable, as I felt instinctively that words and thoughts, like birds, were creatures of the air.  I remember several times collecting feathers of the black-backed gull along the shoreline, picked sometimes out from the low-tide mud. I would write dipping their tip into a bottle of fountain pen ink and imagine I was writing myself back into another age; perhaps I only ever wrote for a few minutes then the game was over, but I loved the curve of them and how you could smooth ruffles in the vane back together again.  For this poem I was thinking of how wonderful it would be to write with the trailing feather of the pheasant.

Then what would one write?  In thinking about those passed on I felt it natural that the quill should write in both tears and gold, the pen of life itself, expresser of joys and sorrows.  So the message from the other side to Marco was a simple one of wishing him ‘well’; written pale with tears and signed off in gold, the precious last wish.  I craved a blessing, perhaps, from the other side for him, for me, that all of us ‘be well’!  The ‘parchment’ of Rome?  I saw parchment somewhere in a museum in Europe, from Rome, or as used in Rome, and as Marco’s mother was Italian I thought it only fitting that her and her ancestors be painted upon it.

I have no idea how I truly wrote ‘of roman parchment’, but thank you all for giving me cause to look into it and remember these strands, at least, that went into its making.  I admit I enjoyed the view! These strands unravel still.

6 thoughts on “reflections upon ‘of roman parchment’”

  1. of course i remember this poem. thanks so much Peter, & how interesting to read your thoughts on it, how you came to write it. can i join your band?


      1. Oh, I see. Of course. I’m sorry I’ve been so lax with Dante this year. I can only hope you have as well, so I won’t feel bad. I see you’re well into writing these days; I need to sit down and give your postings a good read!


      2. you do, & you have been lax – not like some of dante’s characters, i hope. i’ve been lax with it also. i wrote one at the start of the year, which i didnt post: am lapsed; doubtful. i want to do it differently, loosen it. post your poems on the nzpoetry, wont you: doesnt matter if you dont have time to read our poems & comment

        Liked by 1 person

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