The Principle Bitter

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Mortality’s adhesive, jocund emergences, vermiculated flanks, moody skies, early radishes, rhapsodic vaccines, masculine orchids, psychic mobility, flocks of redstarts & Italy.


In the morning binoculars
the sweetness to a moment’s cure
saw a weasel, Alessandro
says they’ll go for the chickens
so no chickens
eggs are easy enough to find
full of strategy, the fog
in a misadventure
wears the scene down
distance vaporized
between chairs
the luxury hours elapsed
today is a blitz
for the cuckoo clock
found the open sky
singing songs to the official boredom
under a child’s rainbow
I thought this day would be shit
bugs in a pyramid, a sign
helianthus is on his way to the sun
it’s a trick! he’ll go where he wants
kids chant andra tutto bene
haul out anticipation
but Italia been there done that
eternity a broth
messes with the breaking point
didn’t sleep old oak
ginestra holds the hill
against another deluge
a hundred versions of dread
can’t spring off tiny spring leaves
Eryngium alpinum remains
solitary with a high collar
the rain sends a stipend
cash in hand landscape
tucks into the Alpi Maritimi
the Alpi Maritimi tuck into God
a mirage lasting so much longer than I remember
wooden at the base
with a gentleman’s lisp
let’s be honest apocalypse
the churches closed
to actual sacrifice, a test to see
how heavy your arms can be
not reaching the glass of water
stand in front of Pompeii red
do you feel the color
as a place lost to an instant
Athena’s copse buried
near Apollo’s Temple, not much left
above the trash, Maria
in the Echinops’ eclipse
more from the midday obituary:
cirrus lost to cumulus
in from Liguria
plans for a thousand dandelions fled
the poppies sing, too, three songs
one each for body mind spirit
I don’t know which came first
on the flash cards
perspective tapers
feral in the lower world
rhubarb, polypody
dittany, origanum
the eels in the Fountain of Arethusa
came when called
tell the forecast
thanks to the hedgehog
the graphs missing sales
of memorial flowers
lovers meet for an illegal fuck
nella Bassa dei Morti
weeping for what I don’t know anymore
microorganisms?
Saturnia pavonia
a moth with eyes on its wings
can always see past flying into the future
a maiden flight, Luigi chats with a screen
Martina and Micol say che bella
though we sink in the mud
the numbers won’t come for us
worms reach the surface
little mounds of macerated dirt
the larger work of moles and voles and then the dog
wrecks himself in search of the heart
motes of discontinuous reflection
skimming around Mombarcaro’s streets
no chance now
to hold my attention
someone got into the basil
the numbers insinuate
a cellular scream
collapse if you like
in the empty piazza
the silent café porcelain
says we’re done
winter’s sleep pulled a brighter shade
out of the creaky tulips
the Valle Bormida an inky carafe
mainstream fever is of real estate
falling off shelves
and yet the lily giggles
bear grapes, the astral spine
succulents in general: semprevivo
beloved spring be happy already
I have the timeless question!
sweets or souvenirs?
water falling out of the sky
to such a degree
we knew the Piemontese mud
would have no accommodation left
I like to see the Belbo full
even to the top
jump the banks
at the end of the salt road
salt to break the names
of towns on the tongue
Saliceto
Salle Langhe
Salle San Giovanni
no sign of actual salt until the sea
where she blesses forty minutes
in the car’s fist
holds the same message
from every damn sea
salt is for grief
a little in the water just before it boils
keep it open for the mood to shift
from birch to rosemary
are we allowed this salty air?
soapy hysterics closed Noli’s candy shop
a sign for Columbus
he shoved off from here with a load
of previous plagues
something scurries in the wall
the usual pest
aromatic chestnut
the season for asparagus and euphorbia
works an alien yellow register
is it going in or out of my eye?
the Entroterra where the horse is heading
with his spasms and fruits
of panic across a vast meter
the artisanal glass between
thinner than the inner ear
reading books from the elders
their nature is to cackle at danger
add letters to the ends of words
in order to ensure their longevity
invisible alarm not in the throat
of the garden, the future holds
the green return
lost in an acanthus corner
a tomato for everyone
don’t admit there’s still joy there
a scorpion in the early radishes
even the words for parts of plants
or things that happen in their presence
could plan for future hunger
after the herbs of the cock
there was a vulgar silence
Magdalene shy in her sunbeam
the day all balsams
major and minor
luppolo and ortiche
Rosa gathers them
for the principle bitter
the heat goes for the seed
has a small-man’s complex
magic honey from Lunigiana
almost gone, psychic mobility lost
aloof to crystals like dust
residing beyond time
allow one color to dry
before applying the next sprained sky
has a way above the fox
and the ridge where we see the animals
return to their camouflage
under puffs of clarity
less pollution, mortality’s adhesive
the calendar says be your own sage
if not a daily saint
to change the station
Luigi sings the earth
a rhapsodic vaccine
when the birds are in the sky
it has to be the day
the earth is my mother’s
mother’s mother
if I was as big as a mountain
and had to jump
a crash landing
cats land on their feet
what else can we add to our song
about the earth
and how we love it?
hamburgers and we could sing
for her sadness
gave the night
a blue check
the scent of the rose or the wisteria
does it matter if beauty
is a lazy meditation?
when are you gonna do the namaste
because I really want pizza
hope’s faucet
we wake hand in hand to groom
our three of a kind, Osmanthus
get close for the high
aid the jocund emergence
white-eyed
rose-ringed
purple sunbird
the newly hatched
a heron bases his ambush strategy
in attesa, every day a complaint
from the crows’ faux evil
or the smaller crowd below
the common buzzard
head spinning something stalls
we’ve always been full of blood
boiling the phantom supplement
a thousand years or were those seconds?
the dogtooth lily holds the horsetail
waiting for l’erba di Santa Barbara underfoot
no it’s time for San Giovanni
to scacciadiavoli, the oil of beech nuts
used until 900 when olive oil came along
force healing through a spell
sweet fern in the grams
water mint to break the air in half
calliope in a swing
a bite from the devil
lungwort alive with its own pepper
then make a ring of fire
where a child liked to play with dolls
you leave the house
to spit over the edge
in between windows
one world holds the other
we debate if there is mass
at San Luigi, days without his habits
moody sky still has agency
roasts the yard work
drawing the body back to the table
carabinieri patrol
summer up the sleeve
orange heart in a yellow circle
found receipts in my purse
from before the lock
I dry-cleaned
la giacca a vento
un copriletto
cut my hair into a bob
and my nails
took taxis in
Hamburg
Paris
Torino
Milano
am I ready città
to be of the field
of lavender
of birdsong
of animal tracks
the legless lizard
the giant snail
the barking deer
is that a friend’s face
moving in for a kiss?
the atmosphere alone
grown too fat for its uniforms
a flight in the sky
tracing paper for the sun’s rays
have begun to deviate
they chronicle how our new acquaintance
moves at leisure, running the galaxy
as if it’s a show about degrees of separation
suddenly a body of people
has one body to share
while it’s another round of blooming
for the wild orchids of Alta Langa
military orchids
masculine orchids
masked orchids
fell asleep over the tarot
four of swords or scissors
cut the worry back
to ants in the pantry
lentils and rice in bulk
pretend the lizard should trust me
the bee-eaters are back up from Africa
they know the coves
between Savona and Celle Ligure
the Torre has come to accept himself
as the town’s original character
imprisoned by the view, the real scenery
beyond the mind
I like it most when it’s all over
Luigi wants to drive to Pisa
for a leaning gelato, will the summer
roll out of Holy Week?
antlers locked, the caprioli
want this land as much as we do
to turn abundant, scabiosa
wild here, I paid $15 a pot in Brooklyn
so am I the scabiosa baroness
what came into bloom
on the day a record number
of spirits passed from earthly to
celestial, flashback flower
jumps into the eye
first walk with morning
she is always a stranger
on time, frenare la folla
recent months are
vents in the walls
of the house that became
very close to everyone
moon at the back door
what about its marathon
stars without little faces
of one hundred abandoned chapels
only gelsomino
climbs the wall
no bright white
it’s not local
back before disease
died in the flames it parted
the annunciation without Gabriel
mama how do fishes turn?
right out that window
we saw a baby fox
crying on the top
smiling on the bottom
I’m an expert
at flocks of redstarts
lid the day
not every cell
has a message
from vermiculated flanks
a balanced date
squeezed then pinched
a child in body
aged in spirit
thrown in with the harlots
we stay up too late
under double chins
one out on the lawn
the other slumps
Federica swears family is a business
she tells us we need a shrine
for the family saint
the saint will speak light and fast
she’ll say I haven’t the instinct
for permanent punctuation
walk with me
as often as you can
through a series of rooms
ones you can see
and ones you can’t
like prayer
not of this world
a home remedy
we all can agree on
medieval but fact


Jessica Dessner is an American visual artist, poet, dancer and choreographer who, after twenty-five years of living in New York City, relocated to the Piedmont region of Italy with her family in 2016. Her recent work has included a new volume of poetry, Complete Mountain Almanac, published by Ergo Press, and participation in a group show at Shrine NYC gallery, entitled Solitude, that featured a series of highly detailed colored pencil drawings based on the workshops of local Italian craftspeople she and her husband discovered while rehabilitating an old Langhe farmhouse. In her newest work, End Times Self Help: Directives & Distractions, a set of sixteen small works on paper, Dessner plays with visual poetry for the first time. This poem was a finalist for Nowhere’s Fall 2020 Travel Writing Prize.

Lead image: Ray Hennessy

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