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Ned Condini

(Honorable Mention 2006 Utmost Christian Poetry Contest $50)

Ned Condini, writer, translator, and literary critic, was an English teacher at Westwood, N.J., until 1999. In 1986 he was the recipient of the PEN/Poggioli Award for his versions of Mario Luzi. Translations of his have appeared in The Village Voice, The Partisan Review, The Mid-American Review, Prairie Schooner and Translation (Columbia University, New York). He was the editor and translator of Legouis' and Cazamian's History of English Literature. He also rendered into Italian Lincoln's Speeches (Mulino, Bologna) and Ben Jonson's Plays (Utet, Turin, Italy). In 1994, Condini's collection of poems, Rimbaud in Umbria, was published by Multigraf, Venice and in 1996, his collection quartettsatz by VIA, Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana. Recently, he has been awarded the Bordighera Prize.

Saint Vincent Ferrer, New York

They overtake me, cursing through their spit
taxicabs' din in the skyscrapers' canyons--
the most deafening city in the world.
'Twas there I saw, on Seventy-first street
and Madison, a slim madonna, a girl
dressed in crimson and white open the portals
to a brown, imposing church. I followed her,
Petrarch enchanted by Madonna Laura.
The young girl held the door ajar for me.
I tiptoed in, slowly opening my eyes
to aisles and naves and frescoes on the walls,
a vaulted dome, a miracle of huge
blue stained-glass windows that suddenly made me
enthusiastic to ascend to heaven
with Laura at my side. But she had gone
to Our Lady's chapel to kneel down and pray.

The windows flared with mauves, violets, purples,
and their dark beauty blinded me for moments.
When I regained my sight, I contemplated
the awesome blue in veneration, gliding
down from the vault to massive pillars, walls
adorned with paintings showing the Via Crucis
in its dolorous steps which I retraced
until my eyes met with a golden radiance
that struck me like a child's storybook: Christ's
first fall under the burden of the cross.
A desolating scene but, to my wonder,
the face seemed to be smiling in its fall.
Pick up your cross--the smile invited me.

At that instant, a monk I couldn't see
started to play the organ--chords from Bach.
Like an adoring Wise Man I continued
my pilgrimage along the cross's path
looking this time for the madonna I had
glimpsed in the chapel just as she was lighting
a votive candle, pointing out the way
from foolish pride to Mary bowed by pain
in front of the mauled body of her son--
she was not there. The music from the organ
reached a crescendo, the cross above the altar
through Jesus' twisted shape reiterated
Pick up your cross, be unperturbed in trouble.

Reluctantly I stepped out of the church,
Vincent Ferrer casting glee on my face,
into a bracing wind. The sky was blue,
a stained-glass window mirroriing the earth,
and, below, people walking in its glow.
The day bloomed back, redeemed, with me in love
again with bustling streets, with men and women
stumbling along, doggedly looking for
innocence, expiation and renewal:
blue sky, purity of white, gold of the cross.
Back to the sanctity of my room, I, Petrarch,
gathered the pieces of my broken soul
restored to unity by Vincent and
with Laura in mind and heart sat down and wrote.

Copyright ©2006 by Ned Condini