Venice Journals, An Excerpt. Words, Photographs & Voice by Ronna Bloom

However old you are, now is now.

Venice is her own body. Old body,
fluid, swollen, flooded, a scarf around her neck,
glittering, crooked, arthritic, breathless, saturated, exhausted,
reinvigorated by love, recast by new generations, mythically wet,
fond, arrogant and vulnerable, welcoming.

Rest here beside. Repose, my favorite. Glittering.
Water in floodlights. Eyes.

The Century Across the Water

Venice had no pants on. I could see right inside.
No path to the door, no porch or yard,
no foreground foreplay.

Venice had the water right before the door.
The plane foreshortened flush
a flatness hotness faded red.
I lost perspective or hadn’t arrived,
the century open across the water
and I, already old, felt virginal.

Pale pink, green marble, stone and fluid.
A thousand years of history
hung like a chandelier suspended from the sky.


To pass anyone in the grocery is like passing on the street:
impossible if you are carrying anything, or with a dog or baby
or are wider than 53cm.

53 cm is the width of the narrowest street recorded
in Giovanni Distefano’s How Venice was built. Calle Varisco.
I touched the bricks on both walls without lifting my elbows.


They roll open the sleek metal cabinets
in the Jewish archives (no bigger than a bathroom)
lined with books bound in the 1600s,
the spines crumbling, the strings visible.

Two walls of books face each other,
a narrow space between.
Calleta di libros, I said. “Little street of books.”
Their words sparked across.
To joke in another language, a pride moment.


The archivist wrote four genealogies in 12 years.
His roots in those trees.
He looked at the archives smiling.

Who doesn’t want to show off their beloved?


In the dark church, pink drapes and blue drapes
crossed torsos, with animals in their arms, running
across canvases, from one century to another.

I put money in a slot     a bulb went on
over the head of the Madonna.
I loved how the bulb got hotter
increasing its power like a mind.
Even the walls got redder. And on the ceiling
the faces of angels, homely, instructive,
some look like Margaret Atwood.

Outside the light hurt my eyes. A small man drew with a small pencil
the million crosshatches of a bridge and a bridge and a bridge.

Dream with Fish

Crabs in the fish stall, a lady in a nineteenth century dress, her waist.
A cat in the garbage. Fish bones on brick. Light,
shine darts into the kitchen.

A man with a beard kisses a man with glasses,
both wearing paper crowns at a stall in the Rialto.
Footsteps upstairs. Mima knocking with a man to fix everything broken.

Wheels over stones, deliverymen over bridges with heavy loads,
their eyes encrusted with precious stones, slivers of agate, visible
haulage. The unpacking of the city every morning.

A long corridor in the Arsenale,
where ropes were made for ships.
The ships went out.

Fondamente Avvocati, Mendicanti, Assassini, Canale de Toletta.
The Road of the Lawyer, the Road of the Beggar, the Road of the Assassin,
Toilet Canal. No map will help you, really.

Under the sky –– palazzos, cathedrals, synagogues, shops.
On the ground floor of a synagogue –– hotel.
Under the hotel –– pilings, pipes, water, and fish.

Tiny crabs with their legs. Eat them raw, he said. Crudo.
They were sweet, but clenched. You can’t rush a creature
out of its shell. Even a dead one.

The history of Venice is the history of desire.

The history of Venice is the history of desire.
Someone must have written this.
To walk with pleasure, bodily, grazing, touching
shifting, not linear. Love making
has a different grammar. Less expected.
It is the unexpected that makes you come.

How does a city loosen you?
When I left that city the first time
I wrote with shame and happiness,
My head is so far up Venice’s ass
I can see out the eyes of the Campanile.


Everything that happens alters your parameters,
those amateurs.


I float my pronoun freely. I you her me. One.

No Photo

This is what you looked like the day I wasn’t there:
mist covered your face, your body.
People got lost in you. Couldn’t see their feet in the road.
Toed their way along on the cobbles. Fogged in. They could only feel you.
You evoked the them in them so they could come forward,
less hidden, protected by the fog of you, be available.

They walked, creatures not in stealth,
but in care, sensing each other.
They had to move this way for their own safety.

After the acqua grande

After the acqua grande they were staggered
in shock holding on to one another
trying to move water…


Took my boot off      knocked it against a wall to get a stone
out   the wall came down like toast crumbs.

I dreamt my house was hit by a meteor.
It smashed through the ceiling and all the floors.

There is fear in my security zone.
Friends mean much to me, wherever they are.

Also, the violinist from last night’s concert.
I felt her music in the fifth tier of my neck,
in the balcony, and the next day at the fruit barge,
by the women in the wine store with their hoses and barrels,
the fish, Branzini shining, death announcements in the windows.

Each day I say, there is nothing between me and the world,
which isn’t true.
There is no me.

And what I mean by the world is precipitous.

The cliff edge of suffering is the cliff edge of the ecstatic ––
isn’t that where Rilke wrote his poems ––
where each wave breaks becoming ocean
and everyone is made of water.

Taking Leave

I was at Trattoria Tosi, leaving the city the next day,
began to ask for a box for the slices, but heard a voice,
you don’t take leftovers to the afterlife.
The most beautiful grief can never be attained,
It being consummation.
As much as we try to devour each other, mind remains.
Thankfully, imagination always holds out her stick and carrot.
Earth is another thing.

I never felt lonely

I never felt lonely when I was with you.
People said I would. Said you made them long for lovers,
bereft of people they’d not yet met. Pining
like on a New Year’s Eve alone,
they couldn’t even try to look happy.

For some perhaps a relief from obligation to happiness,
they could sink into a boat, feel sorrow under them
running through, carrying their lives.

They’d come home glassy-eyed wanting to return to you,
but not alone.
Next time with a friend, at least. A lover would be better.
Some defense against beauty. Against decay. Against absence.
Like returning to your childhood home with nothing between you
and your life, naked.

I wanted that nakedness: the more adorned you were,
the less was in the way.
Ca Rezzonico, Mocenigo, the church of Maria, the voluptuous.
As though excess forces surrender.

Everywhere I look, I cannot not see.
There is only looking, and the city,
from behind its thousands of windows, looking back.

Ronna Bloom is the author of six books of poetry. Her poems have been recorded by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and translated into Spanish, Bangla, and Chinese. Ronna is Poet in Community to the University of Toronto and created the Poet in Residence program at Sinai Health. She runs workshops and gives talks on poetry, spontaneity, and awareness through writing. Ronna’s most recent book, The More (Pedlar Press 2017,) was long listed for the City of Toronto Book Award. The work included here is part of a manuscript in progress of poems and photographs of Venice. Website: Tweets at @ronnabloom

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