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Bellagio Poems

The following is a working edition of a chapbook of poems. The poems are dated as reminders to me about when they occurred. Expect changes as I edit. I welcome your comments. Please let me know which poems you feel are strongest, and which don't hold a candle to the rest (and need to be extinguished.) My sense is that there are perhaps 3 good poems for every 20 I write. Send comments to fairfieldreview at hpmd dot com (with a sneer to the SPAMers :) --egh, 16 Sep 11

4-Oct - Added 3 new poems (24-26) and picked some favorites.
5-Oct - Added 2 new poems (27, 28)
8-Oct - Added 2 new poems (29, 30)
10-Oct - Added 2 new poems (31, 32)
11-Oct - Added the introduction and new favorites
24-Oct - Made a few minor corrections based on reader feedback (thank you) to From the Summit (8) and Morning Sip (21)

Favorites - the ones I still like in the morning are:

5. To the Heights of Serbelloni
8. From the Summit
14. Under the Wisdom Tree
15. Learning from Flies
18. A Book of Poetry
19. Long Shadows
23. Setting
24. After Reading Collin's "Roses" for the Third Time
26. Serenity
27. Smoke
29. Hydrofoil

Bellagio Poems

© Copyright 2011
E. G. Happ
16b Ruelle de la Muraz
Nyon, CH 1260

All Rights Reserved



One of the things I learned as a poet was paying attention to things that grabbed my attention—things that moved me and made me want to rewind and be in that moment again—something that writing poetry allows me to do. Yet the insight I gained was not as much that poetry could capture and re-present moments, if-you-will, but rather knowing when it will happen—whether a concert, a good homily, or a poetry reading—I go with the expectation that something new will transpire to trigger my creative side. It’s as if I go to these places with pen in hand, ready to write.

Similarly, I’ve found that my thinking about problems and new ideas gets better when I’m in dialog with other creative and bright people. There is something about the give and take of conversation, heightened in debate, which ratchets up my thinking, makes me more reflective and engaged with the subject matter in which I’m immersed. This is most true for me in the question and answer time after a presentation. The expected and unexpected questions are often a time to reformulate something, to say it in a new way, to bring in some of the banter to make it better. The bonus is that I can seek out those places where this happens and go like the poet with recorder in hand and an expectation.

This kind of “talk--to-conclusion” (or to “talk to better questions”) is a milieu for thinking that I learned early and have been reminded of at important junctures in my life. The notion that I can expect to co-create with new and old colleagues is a form of collaboration that for me forms a basis for much of my work.

When I came to Bellagio in the fall of 2011 as a resident practitioner at the Rockefeller Center, I came with the expectation that the nascent ideas and objectives that I had about collaboration would develop here. I knew this was a place of incomparable beauty, offering the serenity to reflect and write. But it was not the setting (and certainly not the food) that was the creative catalyst.

Given past experiences, it should have come as no surprise that the conversations would be such a rich source of thinking about collaborations. At Bellagio there is a broad mix of people from countries as far apart as China, Denmark and Nicaragua; and from backgrounds as varied as ecologists, journalists and videographers. We meet for meals and presentations, for drinks before and after dinner, and for the occasional excursions into town in search of the cuisine of the region. Every week some of the group was leaving and new members arriving. One of my colleagues called it the “conveyor belt of Bellagio” the on-and-off overlap of our terms that relentlessly brought something new. I met people who I will count as colleagues and friends for years to come. The conversations with these brilliantly diverse people, not only improved my thinking, they changed the path of my work.

Accepting the letter that arrived from New York some sixteen months ago, I had the sense that I’d arrive to write all those threads left dangling in a busy world, to reflect in weeks what was often a minute here or there. To know the places and times I come alive, expecting a new horizon, a new vantage point and even disequilibrium brought about by the give and take, the push and pull of a dozen points of view the people who come together in one place—even unwittingly— can become partners in a collaboration to help create something new. To these Fellows, I dedicate these poems.


First Days

Morning Poem (1)

I come to sit under an ancient cypress
that twists from the cork of its ground,
and in its way bursts
with a green effervescence
toward its heaven;
the stone bench beneath
is cool and damp and the breeze from the lake below,
so slight
it requires staring
at the new tips of uncut
shoots from the hedge
with new intent—
something this cypress
has done for many days
since the mason placed the iron rails
between the stone columns,
and the gardener
on his knees with trowel
in hand turned a twist of dirt
for just this opening.

16 Sep 11

Forgotten (2)

Having read from the backlit screen
For too long last night,
one connection leading to another,
One story recalling one more;
The morning alarm disturbs a dream unfinished,
Which I cannot remember now
Save there were three characters,
And I had only talked with two.
Now standing in the shower
With the row of shampoo bottles
We lined up on the tile sill,
I decide which one to use,
Step out of the shower
With a twist of towel
And realize in the mirror
I left the bottle unopened,
Like the third person in the dream ,
And in a haste for breakfast
The clock already chiming
halfway to close,
I imagine eggs and bacon
That may have been left behind
By those who woke much sooner.

16 Sep 11

Strangers (3)

Here in this place
I come as a stranger
with intent,
to dip into the warm waters
of conversations
That grow from why we're here
To hear pieces of the studies
Of which I know nothing,
But have read a quote in somewhere,
Enough to spread the wings ignorance
Like fly paper
Waiting for something
To stick.
But it is the stories that
Are the beads we string along a common thread
Where we don't know how this piece
Will come out,
But trust it will reach
A silver clasp.

16 Sep 11

Chiesa di San Giacomo (4)

On a wooden bench
thick with cedar slats
my back to the old stone wall
of Chiesa di San Giacomo,
the fountain barely trickles
in the piazza;
above green and gray shutters,
some open, some closed;
when the church bell bursts
as if played like a trumpet
to a count of three and one,
for a moment
the people clustered as grapes
around small tables along Via Roma
look up;
one lifts a glass of wine.

17 Sep 11
At the church at 3:30 PM

To the Heights of Serbelloni (5)

On the stairs
to Villa Serbelloni
one has the sense
of ever reaching,
of all the non-arrivals,
each turn
by yet a greater one,
so that one cannot
put down the pen
as if reaching the end
of the poem,
but rather writing first lines
again and again.

17 Sep 11

Climbing (original) (6)

The world
five inches
at a time
can be grasped—
but, oh,
there is always
another step

17 Sep 11

Climbing (as Haiku)

The world five inches (5)
at a time is grasped— but, oh, (7)
always one more step (5)

17 Sep 11

From a window (7)

Clouds catch in the creases
of the Como mountains
and hang like smoke
on the roofs of northern houses;
the summits hide
under hats of gray,
backlit by the sun,
trying valiantly to push through.
Such are the ideas
for today,
lost somewhere in the gray spaces
between a fog and clarity
of thought.

18 Sep 11

From the Summit (8)

I climb to the ruins
on the point of Bellagio
where the wind buffets
my coat as a sail.
Last night the cold front chased rains
and as the thin air chilled
it left a coat of snow
on the upper Alps—
a white shock of hair
on the horizon,
reminding of winter’s nearness.
Sitting on an old stone wall
I ache for the height
of depth;
I start to see
that what comes
after a climb of many steps
is the all-of-a-sudden
change in wind
and the front that blocks my view
blows through until the sun
once again teases
my eyes.

19 Sep 11 AM

Late Afternoon (9)

The late afternoon sun
caroms off the lake
in billiards of light;
the sycamore bumpers
just enough to angle rays
left and right
with the shifting breeze;
every edge in these random
cliffs and rounded crags
funnels each wave
of lake and cloud
as if they were going
“this way”,
to this end,
to the valley that flattens
to the plains of Piedmont
and then the sea.

19 Sep 11 PM
From bench one (again)


Middle Days

Gam-ma Duex (10)

Walking from the town
to the iron gate
before the hundred stairs,
we see an orange cat
like our gam-ma
sitting on the landing—
a deeper shade of rust,
with thicker fur
and wise green eyes,
he is younger—
yet when we stop
and meow as if to say hello
in cat-o-nese,
he rolls on his back
to show his soft underside,
yielding to the master
who has deigned
to stoop and pet his tufts of hair,
just as gam-ma does
a country away
in another time and place—
and I think about this openness
to whatever the encounter will bring,
this yielding to the measures and spaces
no matter which landing
sits before us,
which gate
has just swung open.

22 Sep 11

Ginger (11)

In our first summer
we discovered a small ginger plant
choked off from the sun
straining underneath the creeping blooms;
I remember clearing the growth around it,
and placing a plastic flower pot
whose bottom I removed
around the nascent plant
as wall to keep the world at bay—
here you will grow unimpeded, I thought.

Sitting on an old wall amid the ruins
at the apex of Serbelloni,
taking in the sun and shade
as I write,
I have the sense of ginger
with all that covers and intrudes,
held just enough away
the sweet essence
of a verdant pen
spills upon the page.

22 Sep 11

An Opening (12)

Here and there
hang tarnished chains
of varied links—
so the Villa window frames
with their small brass hooks
can be restrained
for their opening—
and as the evening wind
there can be no sudden shut
that rattles brain and glass,
but a holding open,
an allowance,
an invitation;
that what blows in on the wings
of arms outstretched as shutters
and cannot be held at bay.

25 Sep 11

What is within a reach (13)

I remember an old friend
passing on the folklore
of the distance runner:
to run within your breath;
now years later, I stop
on this path of a hundred steps
to catch my breath.
Looking up at this group
of random cypress,
their tops seem out of reach;
yet just this morning
from the balcony
before my quick descent
into the rings of land and lake,
I could reach down my hand
and touch the crowns of blue
that hovered on their finger tips
and mine.

26 Sep 11

Under the Wisdom Tree (14)

Under the wisdom tree,
the statue of Pan is silent;
his flute ever poised upon his lips
as if waiting for the measure
when he comes in with first notes.

A fountain of three strings trembles,
gently plucking the pool beneath its feet;
and in the distance behind me,
the mid-morning sun pushes
over the mountain chop
and makes the lifting fog glow
a yellow-pink.

The lake shimmers
a silk veil in the breeze,
ferries make their way
from town to town,
leaving a streak of finger paint
to show their sending port,
on the hillside are dots of roofs
and bright stucco walls,
catching the upper rays of light.

Here under the ancient cypress,
two-note birds call from tree to tree,
and in this shock of abundant life
the air is chilled,
the bench damp with evening,
Nothing is the same.

27 Sep 11

Learning from the flies (15)

The flies have each picked
a pane of glass
on the tall window
of my room
and do what flies will do,
as if each strip of molded wood
were a fence
to mark their dance into the void
that keeps on pushing back.

Outside across the lake
lies Varenna,
bounded by clusters of pink houses
and yellow inns
under hats of orange tile;
a stream of cars and ferries
make their way to and from
its rising portals.

The flies move so slowly now
as if spent in the tracking
of the haze-clothed sun,
somewhere that’s oblivious,
just beyond a flies reach,
just beyond Varenna.

28 Sep 11

Each a fruit (16)

We go back to pick the swollen pears
that hang on branches bent
almost to the ground,
as dangling arms of sapiens,
knuckles brushing the plethora
of green weeds and grasses gone to seed.

The mosquitoes hover ankle high
and wait in silent pause
for a shorts-clad leg
to amble by.

Now another day,
the bites swell red
and seem to move about
when I rub the salve in circles
on parts behind, that bend to where
I cannot see.

28 Sep 11

Shower (17)

She showers in the corner—
not the corner of the salle de bain,
but the corner of the shower stall
with its staggered sliding doors of glass
and single spot light overhead,
recessed in a ceiling that seems a score away.

In this country of Da Vinci, one would think
someone would design
a showerhead that would rain
to where you wish,

to where she does not need
to stand on the tile border
back to the corner
so the warmth that is the morning call
can run across her shoulders

not in an act of withdrawing to some dark recess,
but adapting to all that’s different in this place

29 Sep 11

A book of poetry (18)

I read the poems
so briskly in the morning,
the pages flap in the turn
of wind;
I imagine another’s pen
scurrying to keep up,
no time for an ex
that takes out the word
just used, which doesn’t quite fit
at this turn in the poem;
no time for the dot on the eye
or even the ing at the end
of this begin.

What was he thinking
from this poem to the next?
Perhaps over a cappuccino,
a long hot bath,
a walk with the dog
along the river mentioned
in this stanza coming up.

Late at night, with insomnia
dancing at the edges,
I read more slowly,
drifting down the deep river
to an inky sleep
and forget,

putting the bookmark
between some pages ago,
so in the light of dawn
I may go back,
and gallop through its day.

29 Sep 11


Final Days

Long Shadows (19)

The long shadows
paint a beginning
and an end;
a sun pushes off the mountain crags
and dazzles the wakes of silent wind;
on this late September morn,
all the white flowers on the oleander tree
turn east with ears straining
for a word or wish;
this is a time to write something down,
while it’s fresh and new,
with letters floating across the page
in little wakes of silent wind
to find the end in the beginning,
to travel east to west.

30 Sep 11
At the cave chairs

Evening’s place (20)

The arms of the old wooden chair
left out since yesterday
carry the damp night air
to my arms that rest
in its gentle curves—
I am embraced
by the evening
that passed before
and rested here,
until I rose and came
to take its place.

30 Sep 11
At the cave chairs

A morning sip (21)

A butterfly is pumping nectar
from the oleander that has brewed
throughout the night—
a morning tea perhaps,
with a dash of honey
to lift the spirits
as it flits away.

30 Sep 11
At the cave chairs

A Child’s Table (22)

I come to the children’s table,
the name I’ve given the stone slab
with the low benches,
so that sitting with an open book
upon its top,
my chin is inches from my pen.
And I wonder about the gardener
who placed these moss-stained planks
of gravel and cement—
what was he remembering?
did he have an extra child’s bench
that needed a table home?
Or was this an invitation
to return to early years
when a sense of play and wonder
tumbled in the fresh cut grass,
imagining a tractor tilling
as it rode up and down
the rise and fall
of this verdant knoll
that looks upon the lake below,
toy boats leaving dazzling wakes
in the late day sun,
and if you make the sound
of engines whirling
with an avid brmmmm,
they skip along the top
of barely ripples
and fly to ports in foreign lands.

1 Oct 11

Setting (23)

I don’t think
I will ever tire of setting suns—
those little deaths
that come upon the lake
and splash with life
as toddlers in the shallows;
yea, they come with wings
that lift and soar
even in their ebbing—
oh to live
and like a light of burning amber
go out behind the silhouettes
of Alps
and name
upon the wind.

2 Oct 11

After Reading Collin's "Roses" for the Third Time (24)

I go back
to read the second stanza
for the third time,
wondering how it is
that my mind wandered
off the page again,
and I have no idea what I just read,
not even the last word.
Where exactly in the poem
was there a semaphore,
clicked down
to indicate the track change
to the local rail
where people are lining up
on the platform
anticipating the doors to open
when they get on
and I, again, get off.

4 Oct 11

To Chevrio (25)

We have not gotten very far
on the hike to Chevrio,
the small mountain village
with the trio of cell phone towers
to which we're homed;
and already I'm breathing hard,
the relentless path of old stone stairs
rising up to an elusive attic
with antenna on the roof.
At this early turn
from the basement gravel,
a spaniel behind a fence
that's laced with morning glories
in all their shocking blue
is huffing out his notes
of "you are here",
while I curse the landing
and grey stone floors

4 Oct 11

Serenity (26)

Above the wishbone of this alpine lake
when the wind is held
like a breath before the dive,
there is such a quiet
that the mountains in their distance
press upon you
and hold you clenched
within this openness--
a single speed boat throttles up
and races for Varenna,
a hidden train slows for its station,
and one bird twitters twice;
then all are gone--
and the sounds of sighs
as I write this down
are all my own.

4 Oct 11

Smoke (27)

There is something burning
beyond Pescallo
near the awnings of the nursery;
the white smoke hangs
in the cypress and evergreens
along the lake--
this is the fabric
of disrupting thought--
that somewhere in the midst
of a bucolic scene
with all its peaceful knowns,
there is a prophet
setting fire to some assumptions,
some thread that held the cloth
now unraveling
like leaves falling
from the autumn oak.

5 Oct 11

Beauty (28)

Two butterflies
who meet by chance
twirl as dancers
who for years have practiced
such a move,
in mid-air
without the ground
as if they've done this
all their fleeting lives.

5 Oct 11

Hydrofoil (29)

Just yesterday
a group of writers
was lamenting the brevity
of tweets,
the stunted notes
of modern
"look at that"
and "here I am."

skimming along the surface
of the lake
from Como to Tremezzo,
I fall asleep

and miss
the cliffs and towns
that anchor the mirror
of this body
which I'm told
is the deepest
part of Italy.

8 Oct 11

Confession (30)

Of all the artwork
in this Duomo
at the edge
of Alps and lakes,
I take pictures
of the ceiling,
the inside of this dome
that is an egg--
something waiting to get out.

Wandering form the altar
through confessionals
where pilgrims kneel
and the purple drape
is pulled aside,
I see the priest
nodding with each "si."

Then I notice
near the door
the stars of gold
between the arches
holding up this heaven.
Yes, I say,

8 Oct 11

The Light Has Changed (31)

Four weeks and we have traversed
the heavens from summer to fall;
today there is snow in the Alps,
the lower crags and cliffs
glow a cooler shade of white
as the sun comes up
and the shade of night
falls into the lake.
The light has changed
and I think in shades of grey and white,
the ash and manna
flake upon the page
and I brush them into words
before they melt.

9 Oct 11

Last Sunday (32)

After the sun
went the way of every end
and the moon hung high
above the southern leg
lounging toward Lecco,
every ripple
carries its knowing
to fade off
on the shore
where dots of light
call from distant lands—
soon we will be there
looking back.

9 Oct 11

© Copyright 2011, E.G. Happ and The Fairfield Review, Inc, All Rights Reserved

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