With New Orleans being gobbled up by the Giant Evil Gentrification Machine—first it was condos, now it’s airBnB and VRBO–regular working folks are wondering how to hang on. Everyone I know is in panic mode about rising rents, so I thought it was a good time to share this poem by Pier Paolo Pasolini. His poem, “The Search For a Home” describes that feeling we all get looking at Craigslist ads for $1500 rentals: I just want someplace to call home.
Pasolini was better known as a filmmaker. He also wrote poetry and prose. He struggled all of his life, worked as a clerk and as a teacher. Some of my favorite Pasolini poems are the ones describing his bus rides to work, looking out the window, daydreaming, whining about being a poet having to go to work as a clerk. Due to his involvement with the Communist party, and his rejection of mainstream religion, he found it hard to get work and was often censored. He faced prejudice because of his homosexuality from everyone—including the Communists. These poems were written after he was kicked out of the Italian Communist party for being gay. (sometime in the late 1940s, early 1950s.) Born in 1922, in Bologna, Italy, he was murdered outside of Rome in 1975. His murder remains unsolved.
If you can read Italian, the poems in their original language are strikingly beautiful. My second choice would be the translations by Ferlinghetti & Valenta. (Other translations are disappointing. Perhaps because Ferlinghetti is also a poet, he grasps the rhythm, spirit and beauty of Pasolini’s verses—the soul.) Roman Poems, one of City Lights’ marvelous Pocket Poets Series, has the poems in both languages.
The best poetry is eternal. Blacklisted in 1950s Rome—or too broke to pay the skyrocketing rents in 2015’s new New Orleans—the feeling is the same.
The Search For a Home
I’m searching for the house where I’ll be buried,
wandering around the city like an inmate
of a poorhouse or rest home out on a pass
with a face baked by fever,
dry white skin and beard,
Oh god, yes, someone else is responsible
for the choice. But this dull
upsetting day of forbidden life
with a sunset blacker than dawn,
throws me into the streets of the enemy city
to look for a house that I no longer want.
The work of anguish has succeeded.
If this last youthful reaction
has meaning, wrapping the heart in paper,
let’s see: what is there today wasn’t there
yesterday? Every day my anxiety is higher,
every day the grief more mortal.
Today more than yesterday terror exalts me. . .
To me this part of the city always seemed joyful
but now is just horror and nothing more.
It seemed somewhat working class, good enough
to walk around in unknown, vast to
the point of seeming a city of the future.
And here a “Tobacco Shop,” there “Bread and Pasta.”
Here the face of a little bourgeois, dark
body-hair and an all-white soul
like the skin of an egg, neither tender nor hard. . .
Crazy! He and his fathers who vainly
Have made it into the clique, fat servants
of dried-up adventurers from the Padana plains.
And who are you, I’d really like to see you,
you planners of these dumps
built out of selfishness, for people without nerves
who install their children and old women
as if for a secret consecration:
no eyes, no mouths, no ears,
only that winking blessing,
and here are the Fascist fortresses, made with the cement
of pissoirs, here the thousand identical
luxury buildings for executives
transubstantied with marble pediments,
hard status symbols, equivalent solidities.
And where then to find my studio, calm
and lively, the “dreamt-of nest of my poems”
which I cherish in my heart like a Pascoli psalm?
One whom the police won’t grant
a passport—and at the same time
the newspaper, which should be the seat
of his real life, doesn’t value
his verses, and censors them.
He’s the one who’s called a man without faith
who doesn’t conform and doesn’t renounce.
Thus it’s right he can’t find anywhere to live.
Life gets tired of those who endure.
Ah, my recidivist passions
forced not to have a dwelling!
Flying to eternal summery lands
I’ll fill out the forms of the world:
“without fixed residence.” It’s Truth
that clears the way. I feel its endless patience
under my atrocious anxiety.
I could also play the part of the crazy, angry man. . .
Just to live! The will to survive requires
fictions which confirm
every act of being. The house
I’m looking for will be —why not? —a basement
an attic, a dump in Mombassa,
or an atelier in Paris. . . I could
also return to that stupendous phase
of painting. . . I already smell the five or six
colors I love, sharp perfume
between the turpentine and the glue
of the frames just made. . .I already feel
the silent spasm in my throat
of technical intuitions, trash
of the old school, marvelously made new.
And in the cornea, red on red
on other reds, in glorious glazes
where the flame is a summit
of the Apennines, or the heat of youths
in Friuli who piss in a ditch
singing in the dusk of the poor. . .
One day perhaps I’ll be grateful to you
for this poor strength that rejuvenates me,
you conformists, with hearts deformed
not by the brutality of your capital
but by the heart of itself, because it has
yielded to evil in other times.
Heart of man which I can no longer,
as a man, either love or judge,
forced as I am down here,
at the bottom of the world, to feel different,
lost to every youthful love.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
translated from the original Italian by Lawrence Ferlinghetti & Francesa Valente
Roman Poems, Pier Paolo Pasolini
© 1986 by City Lights Books
Pocket Poets Series No. 41
San Francisco, CA
Roman Poems by Pier Paolo Pasolini 1986
Who Killed Pasolini? 1995 film
Pier Paolo Pasolini, IMDB Biography
Photo Credit: “Pasolini”, theeveningclassblog: http://tinyurl.com/ploe5fm