San Michele // Where are the gods?

We’re back from Venice and there are any number of things I would have loved to write about. The beautiful masks, the canals, Severio Pastor and his forcole…any would’ve sufficed. The most compelling space I found was the island cemetery of San Michele. I sat and wrote, even composing a poem in the following days. Here’s what came of my short, but sweet time in San Michele.

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There is true peace here. Unmolested by the hectic nature of cities and people, this land stands still. There is no noise, save for one’s own footsteps and the birds singing to one another. The alleys are lined with trees that stand tall, reaching towards the sky and things higher still. Their long shadows cross the ground and lead you along the paths that run the length of the island. It is they who watch. It is they who guard. Yet for all their tight-laced stature and strict foliage, they still sigh with each passing breeze just as we do. The groves and alleys try to give order. They try to contain something. A sense of control? A sense of peace? These the dead have. When we all inevitably go to that far shore and pull back the veil, we will not want for anything. So who, then, is this all really for? This is the land of the living.

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All we leave behind is a name and a legacy to be remembered. That’s what all the pomp and circumstance surrounding these landscapes are for, right? But what’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. So, too, is it with us. A soul in any other form is no less a soul, nor is it any different.

Ted Hughes, through Oedipus, asked “Where are the gods?” I say they are here on earth. They are in the sea. They are within and without. I see their names on the stones here. Lidia, Antonio, Tommaso, Lucia, Pietro, Gabriella, Cesare. I see their faces frozen in time, looking out blankly at the trees and the sky. These faces are anchored to their bodies and the soil. But those are empty. I see their faces in the leaves and stone. Lidia flies overhead to the sea where Cesare and Lucia gently lap against the piers. I feel Ben and Leona in the tears rolling down my cheeks.

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This is the land of the living. This is the land of the here and now, and, because we choose to linger, of the gone and said. Watched over by the gods, we sit and hold still.

Perhaps it is best that this land I left where it is: on an island. Far from the city. Far from us. Just out of reach so we don’t linger, but close enough to freely come by, to dwell for a few hours. Sometimes we need to stop and hear the earth. That is the voice of the dead. It is they who speak in the earth and trees. It is they who use the birds and the wind to set our hearts at rest; to make us still. Perhaps it is good to glimpse the true realm of the gods and to remember who they were. It is good to remember who they are and where they will always be.

Where are the gods?

Where are the gods?

I’ve been told the live

In quiet holes or in the

Shadows of man’s imagination.

The empty halls of oblivion

Are their domain with not even the

Faintest footsteps to echo off the

Stone vaults and cold, marble floors.

 

I’ve been told there are no

gods.

That the gods are dead.

That we sit, waiting for signs

That we imagine. The gods

Sit like unwritten words on a

blank page: There and not.

The gods haven’t left us,

I’m told. They were never

Even there.

 

They’re wrong.

 

I see the gods in every sphere

Of this life.

I see them in the birds of the air and

The air that lifts them up.

I see the gods in the ringing of the

Bells and the ears that hear them.

I see the gods in the stone beneath my

Feet and in the echoes they make.

I see the gods in my dreams and successes

And failures.

I see them calling out in art and

Word, sea and sky, man and beast.

Calling out from the unknown and the familiar.

Where are the gods?

Look.

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