You must give birth to your images. They are the future waiting to be born. Rainer Maria Rilke
I fell in love all over again on a Sunday evening a week ago. In a deeper way than before. Perhaps it was the bright sprigs of forsythia already in yellow bloom that Pia brought into Joy Center in a tall clear vase, and the Chilean fish stew, perhaps it was the food that the others brought as well, the pasta dishes tossed with fresh vegetables and drizzled with olive oil, the white beans mixed with garlic and spinach and basil so tasty that you might forget that it was snowing outside on this April evening, perhaps it was the fruits soaked in white wine and the gelatos lined up on the counter for us to dive into, perhaps it was all of this deliciousness, the meal set out before us and the company of friends and the talk of poetry and warmer places by the sea, all of this that made what came next seem even better this time around.
It was in the mid-nineties, almost twenty years ago now, that I first saw the movie, Il Postino. I was captivated by it then, this gorgeous story set in the 1950’s on an island off the coast of Italy about the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s friendship with a young postman. We saw it together, Cam and I, on the big screen, in a time before our nest had emptied, in a time before we had traveled to Italy twice, before we had swam in those sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean, before we had hiked along the cliffs above those waters, before it had a familiar glow: the sea, the coves, the fishing boats, the singing full-bodied speech of Italy. And now, here we were again, the twenty-year-older versions of ourselves, Cam and I, and our Joy Center friends, on a snowy blowy Upper Peninsula Sunday, our bellies filled with the warmth of a delicious meal, watching this movie again.
I expected that I still would love it. I expected that I would swoon as I had nearly twenty years earlier over those scenes where the postman, mail sack slung over his shoulder, pedaled his bicycle up the hill away from the village center on gravel roads that clung to the sides of steep seaside cliffs, swoon as he approached Neruda’s cliff-hanging cottage, swoon as the sea sparkled behind them, swoon as we, the audience, met Neruda, the famous Chilean poet. For me, twenty years ago, it was as though I was meeting an old friend as I watched the scenes of Pablo sharing the power of words and the heart within them with the younger postman and aspiring poet, Mario. The movie wasn’t my first encounter with the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Poet Laureate of Chile. I had known of Pablo Neruda for years, had read his odes, his poems of the sea, his poems of passion and social justice, had shared them with high school students and college freshmen, had witnessed how these poems ignited in us, like they did in the character, Mario, our own longings and poetic hearts. Yes, I expected to swoon over the scenery and the sheer beauty of the language and the sweet sweet story. And I expected to fall in love all over again with Pablo Neruda. What I didn’t expect was for the movie to become more than just a movie, for the evening to become a huge poem growing inside me, something larger than my plain everyday words could describe.
I’m sure that the food — food that tasted of the sea and the shore — and the company of friends, and the remembering of that first time watching this movie with my guy, and the magic of being transported on a snowy April evening to someplace warm, I’m sure that all of this was igniting these poetic feelings. But it also was something more. Before beginning the movie a week ago at Joy Center, I shared a story with my friends, a story that I had remembered hearing all those years ago, one that I had read in a review of the movie after already watching it, how the actor who played the postman had died of some sort of heart condition shortly after finishing production. And as I watched the movie come alive for me on Joy Center’s wall this past Sunday, this knowing had an impact. It all blurred together, the story of the postman, Mario, who discovered his inner poet in the presence of the poet, Neruda, who found his passion, and was living fully this passion as the story approached its conclusion, who was at the peak of so much possibility, and suddenly, no longer alive, his story blending for me with the actor’s story. It wasn’t just the character who I fell in love with this time around, the sweet postman on an isolated island off the coast of Italy in the 1950’s; it was also the actor who played the character in a movie produced in the 1990’s whose story parallels the story of his character. I felt his presence, this actor, as though he too had hauled up a bolster and had plopped himself down on Joy Center’s floor and was watching this movie, his movie, with us.
I loved him, this man who had given his all to the part, this man who I googled when I returned home later that evening. Massimo Troisi is his name and he not only brought a brilliance to the character, Mario; he brought a brilliance to the script as well, co-writing Il Postino with the movie’s director. He was funny and handsome and was known as the “Steve Martin of Italy”. I learned these things through my research. He believed in this project, like his character, Mario, was on fire, and he knew that a childhood heart condition could be fatal, knew that he needed a transplant, was intending to get one soon after finishing the movie. It was less than a day after the camera stopped rolling that he lay down on a bed at his sister’s house, fell asleep and died. He was forty-one years old.
I think that the first time around, I was stunned by the character Mario’s death. I think that I might have deemed it a tragedy. I remember that I felt sad. That is what I want to tell you; I didn’t feel sad this past Sunday. I felt full, full of the poem growing inside of me, full of life. We also learned that evening that Pablo Neruda’s bones just had been exhumed in Chile, that they are being examined to see if he was poisoned by the dictatorship that took over Chile in the early 1970’s. And that was such a strange juxtaposition, to think of Neruda’s bones when he was very much flesh-and-blood- alive on the screen, very much alive in the poems we were reading, very much alive in the Joy Center air. And the postman — how can I be sad when the postman was on fire when he died, and Massimo, too!
And so after the credits rolled down the screen and the music subsided, the projector was turned off, and we, the friends who had gathered at Joy Center for dinner and a movie, all said our good-byes and trudged out into the snowy April night. But it didn’t feel like the end to me. It felt like the glorious middle of a story that really is too big, too rich to ever have an ending.