small textlarge text

Alessandra Bava

Pockets Full of Stones

“I am doing what seems the best things to do”

Virginia wrote in her note to Leonard
early on a foggy March morning
before leaving home,

wearing a bonnet,
holding her walking cane
she would later leave on the grassy

bank, her overcoat
pockets filled with
stones and madness.

One wonders how long a time she
must have spent watching the Ouse,
before walking into its icy flow and

letting the hard stones do their job.
No flowers like Ophelia’s adorning
her unkempt hair, her pale body held

firm by the current’s strong embrace,
strange voices haunting her soul
whispering to her, lulling her asleep.

She was presumed dead.
Vita (O Life!) Sackville West
hoped her body would be carried

to the sea, where frothy waves
would be her shroud, never to be found
again. (Those are pearls that were her eyes.)

Leonard secretly hoped
she had only walked crazily away,
a Queen Lear amidst the fields.

Three weeks later some children found what
was left of her in Southease. “Suicide by
drowning,” read the Coroner’s note.

Whatever exit from the world
she had staged, Virginia was
her own fearless playwright.

Her very words, her epigraph:
“Against you I fling myself,
unvanquished and unyielding, O Death! “

“Meet Me at Hotel Elsinore”

(after Hamlet 2000)

“Meet me at Hotel Elsinore,” the ghost tells me as Ophelia is busy printing pictures and I, Hamlet, write love letters sitting in a diner, the foam of cappuccino on my lips. Polonius rants to the camcorder, making himself an utter fool. Here I am reciting “To be or not to be” in a video shop. Nothing indeed appears more dead than a video shop. A gun aimed at the head or in the mouth. Ophelia walks on the brink of a pool dreaming dreams of drowning. Mother wears her intolerable red lips. The Mousetrap, a tragedy by yours truly, is screened: petals, scenes from old movies, poison and crowns unfold. Let me drive you to Hell in this limo, (dear) uncle. Let me fly you to England on an American Airlines flight, (dear) nephew. No better place to meet Rosencratz and Guilderstern than a disco. Or, the Laundromat where I am washing my stained shirt. Ophelia came to return all my letters and the yellow rubber duck in an optical box. I toast to her fallacy with a Tuborg beer. Later, at the Guggenheim, Ophelia screams out loud. They found her floating in a fountain, my letters floating close to her. I switched on Rosencratz’s laptop. I deleted the order. They are dead. Horatio came to pick me up. We ride on his bike to the cemetery. They are burying Ophelia in her sneakers, today. Trees are leafless. A fencing duel awaits me. They say death has such swift hands.

Seeking Francesca

You said chairs could be sentimental,
the way people would sit on them
and wait. And, when the perfect light

erupted in the studio loft, you would
hold your position clasping the lintel
with clamped hands, crucified to the

door of Art. A body emotionally
exposed to the nails and claws of
Photography, who bore the signs of her

artistic flagellation with pride, each scar
penetrating the film, leaving impressions
of skin as on a holy shroud.

There is your breath cast in these walls,
I caress the thick plaster. My fingers
burn. Alive.

[written after visiting the former Pastificio Cerere, a disused plant in San Lorenzo, Rome, where photographer Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) took several of her shots]

➥ Bio