A Found Poem – By Italian Novelist Francesca Melandri from The Guardian on March 27th – When All of This Is Over the World Won’t Be the Same

Italian novelist, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker Francesca Melandri (1964 – )

From The Guardian:

The acclaimed Italian novelist Francesca Melandri,
who has been under lockdown in Rome for almost three weeks
due to the Covid-19 outbreak, has written a letter
to fellow Europeans “from your future”,
laying out the range of emotions people
are likely to go through over the coming weeks.

And what a letter it is. And it is as relevant for me here in Duncan on Vancouver Island as it is to her fellow Europeans. I posted the letter from The Guardian on Facebook earlier today and as I did I once again thought how more powerful it would be as a poem! So I lineated it, gave it stanzas and took out a few prosey lines or phrases here and there but otherwise all the words in the “poem are Francesca’s.

This “poem”/letter has so many surprises in it.  Things that seem so obvious once I read them but weren’t so obvious before. The real human cost of the lockdown/ self isolation around the globe. What might happen inside those houses and apartments. Will spouses and children be beaten? Will marriages collapse? With the emphasis on cases and deaths and the looming economic toll some of these other tolls are not so well described. But they are here.  I especially appreciated her arch remarks about how nice it is the CO2 emissions have been cut in half but how will I pay my bills?

I hope you enjoy this “poem”/letter as much as I do!

A Letter To My Fellow Europeans

I am writing to you from Italy.
From your future. We are now
where you will be in a few days,
in a parallel dance.

We are but a few steps ahead of you
just like Wuhan was ahead of us. We watch
you as you behave just as we did. You hold
the same arguments we did,
between those who still say
“it’s only a flu, why all the fuss?”
and those who have already understood.

From your future, we know many
of you, as you were told to lock yourselves
up into your homes, quoted Orwell,
some even Hobbes. But soon you’ll be too busy
for that.

First of all, you’ll eat.
You’ll find dozens of social networking groups.
You will join them all, then ignore them
completely after a few days.
You’ll pull apocalyptic literature out
of your bookshelves, but soon you don’t feel
like reading any of it.

You’ll eat again.
You will not sleep well. You will ask
yourselves what is happening to democracy.
You’ll have an unstoppable online social life –
on Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom…

You will miss your adult children
like you never have before; the realisation
you have no idea when you will ever see them again
will hit you like a punch in the chest.

Old resentments and falling-outs

will seem irrelevant.
You will call people you had sworn
never to talk to ever again,
Many women will be beaten in their homes.

You will wonder what is happening
to all those who can’t stay home
because they don’t have one.
You will feel vulnerable shopping
in the deserted streets, especially
if you are a woman.

You will ask yourselves
if this is how societies collapse.
Does it really happen so fast?
You’ll block out these thoughts
and when you get back home

you’ll eat again.
You will put on weight.
You’ll look for online fitness training.
You’ll laugh. You’ll laugh a lot.
You’ll flaunt a gallows humour you never had
before. Even people who’ve taken everything
dead seriously will contemplate
the absurdity of life, of the universe and of it all.

You will make appointments in the supermarket queues
with your friends and lovers, so as to briefly see them
in person, all the while abiding by the social distancing rules.

You will count all the things you do not need.
The true nature of the people around you
will be revealed with total clarity.
You will have confirmations and surprises.

Literati who had been in the news will disappear,
their opinions suddenly irrelevant;
some will take refuge in rationalisations
which will be so totally lacking in empathy
people will stop listening to them.
People whom you had overlooked, instead,
will turn out to be reassuring, generous,
reliable, pragmatic and clairvoyant.

Those who invite you to see all this mess
as an opportunity for planetary renewal
will help you to put things in a larger perspective. You will
also find them terribly annoying:
nice, the planet is breathing better
because of the halved CO2 emissions,
but how will you pay your bills next month?

You will not understand if witnessing
the birth of a new world is more a grandiose
or a miserable affair.

You will play music from your windows and lawns.
When you saw us singing opera from our balconies,
you thought “ah, those Italians”. But we know you
will sing uplifting songs to each other too.
And when you blast I Will Survive
from your windows, we’ll watch you
and nod just like the people of Wuhan,
who sung from their windows in February, nodded
while watching us.

Many of you will fall asleep vowing
the very first thing you’ll do as soon as lockdown is over
is file for divorce.

Many children will be conceived.

Your children will be schooled online.
They’ll be horrible nuisances; they’ll give you joy.

Elderly people will disobey you
like rowdy teenagers: you’ll have to fight
with them in order to forbid them from going out,
to get infected and die.

You will try not to think about the lonely deaths
inside the ICU. You’ll want to cover with rose petals
all medical workers’ steps.
You will be told that society is united
in a communal effort, that you are all in the same boat.
It will be true.

This experience will change
for good how you perceive yourself
as an individual part of a larger whole.
Class, however, will make all the difference.
Being locked up in a house with a pretty garden
or in an overcrowded housing project
will not be the same. Nor is being able to keep
on working from home or seeing your job disappear.

That boat in which you’ll be sailing in order
to defeat the epidemic will not look the same
to everyone nor is it actually the same for everyone:
it never was.

At some point, you will realise it’s tough.
You will be afraid.
You will share your fear with your dear ones,
or you will keep it to yourselves
so as not to burden them with it too.

You will eat again.

We’re in Italy, and this is what we know
about your future. But it’s just small-scale fortune-telling.
We are very low-key seers.
If we turn our gaze to the more distant future,
the future which is unknown both to you
and to us too, we can only tell you this:

when all of this is over,
the world won’t be the same.

Francesca Melandri from The Guardian, March 27th, 2020

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