Called to Flight: Three Poems

By Chandra Livia Candiani

Urban Systems Lab
Feb 10 · 4 min read

Introduced and translated from the Italian by Brian Robert Moore

The work of Italian poet Chandra Livia Candiani can be described almost in its entirety as a creation of connections, a building of bridges between the individual and what lies beyond the self. Her relationship to poetry is inherently social in its engagement with the outer world, and even as one of Italy’s most beloved contemporary poets, Candiani has led poetry workshops in places such as hospices, homeless shelters, and elementary schools in the outskirts of Milan. The connections explored in her own writing link people and animals, the living and the dead, the bodily and the metaphysical, the city and nature, often simultaneously, and this is characteristically the case in the three translated poems taken from the section “Chiamati al volo” (Called to Flight) published in her most recent collection, La domanda della sete (The Question of Thirst). Here we see ghostly and oneiric visions of the urban environment, though also multiple possibilities for communication between man-made constructions and the natural world: in one instance plants and trees exist in a form of dialogue with a building — and with its human inhabitant — while in another the poet and her interlocuter become “the spaces between” elements of the wider natural world. Though depictions such as these might appear pastoral at first, Candiani has spent the majority of her life in the heart of Northern Italy’s biggest metropolis; her poems often reflect not an escape into nature, but an expression of deep respect for its sovereignty and dignity, with plants and animals appearing as moments of meditative calm, even within the intricacies of the city. It is a dynamic that can play out everywhere, as Candiani noted in the first entry of her “pandemic diary” published in the Italian online magazine Doppiozero: “We shouldn’t neglect these other kingdoms — there are trees wherever we are, there’s always an animal or two, if only the lifesaving dogs in the cities. They are tired, a greeting does them good.”

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A different kind of birth
spirited you away
leaving here
the body’s bulky shell.
You have the sleepiness of snow
a silence that’s sowed
like a city of fireflies
in a black field.
Here we are forest,
you and I alone,
we are not trees
we are not bushes,
not the birds, nor are we
the tracks of animals
but the spaces
between the trees, the birds,
the tracks of animals:
call me. We were sisters
and now bridling my heart
in tightened grip, with any name
at all, call me.

Call me from the high-up shadows
call me commanding
intimately, call me out
from these grave laws, from the anchors
in the current without rapids,
from reasonable opinions.
Call me like a frightened creature
blade of grass in the tensed breathing
of the city’s forests
of the houses piled up in sleep
of the cars abandoned in the streets
like the skeletons of sad dinosaurs.
Whisper to me that at home now
it’s time to turn the lights on
let me smell the scent
of bread and jasmine,
then rip away, softly,
from my good donkey
whatever is left of me.
Our mother
so delicately ferocious.

I believe in the perfume of jasmine
that rises to the second floor
and reminds me. I believe
in the leaves on the pagoda tree
that are about to reach
my hand by the window
and which at night I know
stand guard for me.
I believe in the sudden shock
that leads us
into the secret of actions
and readies us to blush
and to remedy.
I believe in the barren trees
that inscribe themselves in the sky,
in the verses that slow down
to the slumber of birds.
I believe in lines and precarious
balancing acts, in open-air
emotions, tried by blizzards
broken by times
of hardness and abandon.
I believe when you listen to me
crouched around the future
like a grain of rice
and when you speak without
any intention whatsoever.
I believe in the commas, in periods
and in the white that creates quiet
and delivers the following word.
I believe in stopping now
with arms open, minuscule
in the landscape of our intricacy.

Italian edition: La domanda della sete.
© 2020 Giulio Einaudi editore s.p.a., Torino

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Chandra Livia Candiani (Milan, 1952) is one of Italy’s most celebrated contemporary poets. She has received awards including the Montale Prize and the Camaiore Prize, and her most recent books are the collections La domanda della sete (Einaudi, 2020) and Vista dalla luna (Salani, 2019). An instructor of Buddhist meditation and a translator of Buddhist texts from English, Candiani explored the meditative process in her best-selling work of nonfiction, Il silenzio è cosa viva (Einaudi, 2018).

Brian Robert Moore is a literary translator originally from New York City. He worked for several years in the Italian publishing industry, including as editor of foreign fiction for the Milan-based press Chiarelettere. He won the 2021 PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature for his translation of Lalla Romano’s A Silence Shared, and his translation of Meeting in Positano by Goliarda Sapienza will be published by Other Press in May 2021.

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Urban Systems Lab

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Research, design, and engagement for more equitable and resilient cities. http://urbansystemslab.com/

Resilience

Resilience is a quarterly publication co-produced by the Urban Systems Lab at the New School, providing a unique forum to share strategies in design, data visualization, and interdisciplinary scholarship on urban ecology, environmental justice, and sustainable cities.

Urban Systems Lab

Written by

Research, design, and engagement for more equitable and resilient cities. http://urbansystemslab.com/

Resilience

Resilience is a quarterly publication co-produced by the Urban Systems Lab at the New School, providing a unique forum to share strategies in design, data visualization, and interdisciplinary scholarship on urban ecology, environmental justice, and sustainable cities.

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