La Laguna – Venezia – A Poem

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Old stone, flat and cold,
Solid as steel beneath my feet. Jesolo.
Concrete miles line this beachy isle
That sits, shallow – across the sea.

La laguna.
I reach the shore and can feel her:
A siren call. That sacred hive over yonder,
Where glass and sky and mist
All rise – to crown the jewel,
Venezia.

That mystery plane.
That wicked place;
So fair, so bright – with stilted roots
Digging deep inside
A scattering of tiny islands,
Where now tourists raid and colonise,
every day, every night…

And yet are none too wise
To what our gloried star really hides?
Empirical history – dodgy Doges,
Torture, theft, rape, plague, or lies?
What sacrifice lives inside and fortifies
Those gabled walls? Those marble halls.

A Romantic city. A shell of former times.
Such beauty stands, like staggered, arched
and gilded hands – surrounding ancient reliquary.
But perfect painted muralled doors
Show nothing of the crimes before,
Of boats that moored, the wars there fought,
A majesty paid, staked, staged or bought
– like golden coins, poured;
Channeled deep into the murky waters.

A drowned world. A drowned horde.

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Can truly no-one hear the streets that talk?
The fishermen, dogs, the tools, the nets,
The marketplace, waste, the gabble – the squawk
Of hooded crows – bent hooks, sharp lines,
Hordes and hordes of squinted eyes,
Sharpened knives, yellowed teeth, butchered pork
and hammered beef. A blood-stained reef…

Can no-one see the ghosts who walk?

A Golden city
– painted bright but rusted to the core.
Silently it lies in paradise;
Invisibly it holds a torch.
A secret city – shy to most.

But to my eyes these flooded isles
Hold many an ancient host…

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Jesolo, Venezia, Septemeber 2014.

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22 Comments

  1. A beautiful poem. I refuse to say how long it is since I was in Venezia, remembering, on the way there, how people, asked the way, answered ‘Venniss? Venniss? Ah! Venezia!” and helped us on our way. I have long said that you have not read a poem until you have read it three times. It was a delight to do this with La Laguna. Probably it should apply to cities too. If I were to choose favorite lines from many it would be ‘Such beauty stands, like staggered, arched / and gilded hands – surrounding ancient reliquary’. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you. Yes, words without vowels on the end seem to confuse some Italians – I remember trying to get this elderly Tuscan chap to pronounce my name – he couldn’t even say James… The particular line you reference was written with the shrine of Saint Mark in mind. Thanks for reading! Jx

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  2. Went to Venezia ten…no eleven years ago. Very exciting gloriously gilded intricately patterned full of intrigue and beautiful decay yet oddly felt most comfortably at home in this fabulous city. Your poem rekindles and com hours up this most wonderful of places. Thank you.

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  3. Very beautiful poem, with such depths. Venice, like so many ancient cities, holds myriad secrets. You so aptly listed all the possible – or probable – dark deeds that took place here in the past. I’ve read a couple of novels set during the time of the doges, but have never visited Venice… yet. Oddly enough, we hope go next May, so your lovely poem is very meaningful to me. I love your phrase ‘Golden city… painted bright but rusted to the core’. It could, perhaps, sum things up.

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    1. Thank you. Yes, I have to admit, I’m rather fond of that line too. I do hope you get the chance to go – she will suck you in to her trance – if you can overlook the tourists. I’ve never had that problem, there’s too much to see above and around to pay attention to the crowds. And Venice, a thriving port, would always have been full of merchants, pilgrims, all sorts of’foreigners’ – and all bedazzled by her yin-yang beauty. It’s part of the blood, the water. Pumping and churning. Stirring up. I so hope you get to go, Millie…! God bless. Jx

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      1. And thank you for that lovely reply We do plan to visit Venice next year, but also Rome. I loved your post about Venice. It made me even more determined to see it for myself. (Husband agrees, of course. He’s as much a history and travel lover as I am.) The intricasies of a living, functional city totally intrigue me, and the layers of history beneath simply beguile. I can understand how anyone could be bedazzled by the beauty of the place: merchants, pilgrims, the foreigners, would indeed be ‘part of the blood, the water. Pumping and churning. Stirring up.’ Such a wonderful description. Thank you, James.

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        1. Thank you! I could go on about Venice forever, I really could. She is my siren and I am lost to her spell… I lived in Rome for a short while too, a few months. Another place to get perfectly lost… I wish you and your husband the best for your exciting journey ahead!

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        2. Thanks, James. We think it may have to be two separate trips – one to Rome and one to Venice. Fitting both cities into one might not be possible, but we hope to do both next year. I wish you every joy on your travels around the world. May the learning process be fruitful for you.

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  4. Beautiful in poignant, hauntingly nostalgic, poetic honesty… It flows serenely and yet melancholically discomforts, causes one to pause, to consider, to reappraise without losing appreciation for ancient, secretive, golden Venezia.

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    1. Thank you! Yes, I purposely gave it a slightly jolty flow in places – and smoother in others. The ebb and flow of multi-faceted Venezia. The seen and the hidden. It’s such an energetic place; multifarious, pulls me in… I wrote this sitting on a terrace in Jesolo, just across the lagoon… Jx

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