Water on the Sun

by Grace Cavalieri, translated by Maria Enrico.

Poems in English and Italian.
Bordighera Press, © 2006. Pgs.97. ISBN: 1-884419-77-1.
Winner of the 2005 Bordighera Poetry Prize.

Dear Grace,

This is just a note to thank you for Water on the Sun. I’ve been reading the poems in different places — at the post office a couple of days ago, on line, the 40-ish woman behind me said she “really” liked you — you know Grace, I asked? Only through “The Poet and the Poem,” she said. I’ve been reading poems at stoplights, in the sun, the car top down these days. And at the supermarket a day or two ago, on line again. And then last night I began reading from the beginning. I first stand up in amazement at how much you’re doing and the way you’re doing, I mean the quality and attentiveness, in the broadcasts, the reviews, the plays, and of course the poems that seem to be landing in your mind constantly —

But to the poems. First I have to tell you how much I loved looking at the Italian. I don’t know Italian but I can read and speak the lines and I love — I mean love — their music. Compare

That every mother has the same child,
And so every loss is the same loss.

with, “che ogni madre ha lo stesso figlio,/ e che ogni perdita e la stessa perdita.” The single syllable child with figlio, the single syllable loss with perdita. And musica for musicmadre for mother. The lines are longer but they sing — they sing.  Or in “Trarot Card O. The Fool”: where you can get “poesi/pensieri” (compared with “poems/thoughts”). There is just sound in the mouth pleasure in writing and listening to voice in:

            Come possiamo fidarci di
Uno scoiattolo, cosi soffice,
Cosi diverso
Da come sembra.

We should all write Italian or read these poems in Italian and try and imitate their music.

There are the affecting poems here — “You could not say she was of this earth” is just one — and what I’ll call the nighttime poems, those in which you trust what language has given you without trying to translate it (I think of Mallarme’s, “To name is to kill”), “Water on the Sun,” “The Only Cure for Pain Is Pain,” “Morning Poem.” There are lines that are poems in themselves, or so it feels to me, “Yes there is divine fruit growing from the wound” and “I say to the past / You were never a well-made thing.” I can imagine a stronger ending, maybe longer, for “How a Poem Begins,” though I love the first 11 lines — maybe the end I’m hearing is my imposition, one in which the little significant things are so loud that if we heard them, they might deafen or wound us. And in “This Is”/”Questo E, I don’t know that the last line is necessary (something to consider or not for your Collected/Selected).

But this is just a small raid on your collection, which is richly dimensioned — there are poems I’ve marked to come back to, which I will. What should I say? Thank you.

MERRILL LEFFLER is a scholar, teacher, poet, and the publisher of Dryad Press. He is the author of Partly Pandemonium, Partly Love, among other books.