And how could we sing with a foreign heel on our hearts, among the dead abandoned in the squares on the hard and frozen grass, to the lament of innocent children, to the dark cry of the mother hastening to her son crucified on a telegraph pole? Upon the willows, we too, as an offering, hung our harps which swayed quietly in the sad wind.E come potevamo noi cantare con il piede straniero sopra il cuore, fra i morti abbandonati nelle piazze sull’erba dura di ghiaccio, al lamento d’agnello dei fanciulli, all’urlo nero dalla madre che andava incontro al figlio crocifisso sul palo del telegrafo? Alle fronde dei salici, per voto, anche le nostre cetre erano appese, oscillavano lievi al triste vento.

Salvatore Quasimodo

What could or should words do in a moment of sorrow?

It’s not a rhetorical question. There is no easy answer. Salvatore Quasimodo’s verses tell about one of the most obscure periods of our history: the years between 1943 and 1945. Italy is a tangled mess of blood and bullets. The war generates contrasting reactions in literature. Men’s biggest protest and resistance tool remains mortified in front of the pain. No more stamina, no energy. No words.

Upon the willows is one of Quasimodo’s most popular works. It’s probably due to that dark cry everyone borrows to explain the figure of speech, the most famous and atrocious synaesthesia in Italian poetry. Exactly in those two words the pathos concentrates and explodes.

Dark. Cry. Blind pain with no chance of rebirth.

My thought goes to Bergamo. The Financial Times states that in the city the death rate is 464% higher than last year. In Italy 10 million people were affected by Covid-19, says the British Imperial College. The official number is 27 thousand souls. 60% more have died, says the Financial Times. The pain is blind now. Funerals aren’t allowed. People die alone, far from their loved ones, attached to widgets a child would call scuba masks. Respiratory aids.

Corrado Augias on Repubblica suggests dedicating a day to remember all of them. I follow and support it.

What should thought do before grief?

Again, no easy and foregone answer. A debate in front of pain should be appropriate, adequate, respectful. It should dance toe-to-toe not to offend affliction. Italian pens, the hermetic being one between many, were criticized for doing so even too much. Proper to the point they seemed slothful.

Education to and of debate is fading away with time. Education to and of criticism, constructive and not tout court, is being devastated. Frankly, the Italian ability of thought has been embarrassing in the last few days, even shameful for a noble country like ours. A feral debate has stepped on sorrow: today (Tuesday 30th April) we read on the first page of La Verità “Bullshit to keep us in confinement”. Bullshit that I link in photo, because only harshness can contrast vileness.

The rumoured Phase 2 will begin on the 4th of May. Someone called it Phase 1 and a half, or even less. There are many questions and not so many answers, it’s right, behind the shield of a crude and painful truth. Italy isn’t ready for a restart, the numbers are still too high, too many are dying. Bare, stark truth. The Scientific and Technical Committee previews (worst case scenario) that, before June, 151 thousand people may need the scuba mask to breathe. Intensive care can only cure a number of people 16 times lower. A bloodshed the government has desperately tried to avoid filling every choice with sacrifice. Extreme sacrifice.

Can we ask the government to keep perspective and truth close, even if they seem dichotomous now? Yes, and I want to add that we should. Not because Italy is behind other countries in this fight, but because we have been leaders in protecting human life, and we should maintain that role.

Protecting life was a difficult choice to make in font of an already weakened economy, a choice that may kill as many or even more than a virus.

But messages are important. It’s not about how many fell and will fall. It’s bout giving dignity:

In Sao Paolo mass graves were dug in the forest, but it’s fine as long as merchants can keep working.

In the US the corpses were taken away with trucks, because those who are still alive just need to inject themselves with sanitiser. That’s enough right?

In Paris there were administrative elections in March. The government let democracy become the reason why France suddenly was the country in Europe with the highest contagion rate per tests made. Only 7% of citizens were tested. In Italy that percentage is four times higher.

Is sacrificing health in order to protect personal freedom truly democratic? Are we sure a caring government is the one that doesn’t put us into home confinement? Our country, with its dramatic choices, has honoured the sacrifice of those who didn’t survive. We must not forget this. We must be proud of this.

Pride, though, doesn’t imply sluggishness of thought, which must keep on questioning measures, and, if possible, helping our ministers to make the right choices, to prepare the field for the right strategy. But in Italy, of all the questions we could ask, many thought the most important one was about who the State is to dictate the possibility to visit a stable dear person, but not an occasional one. A terribly improper question that exploded over the internet and, sadly, even in the Parliament.

In one of the first countries in the world for welfare spending, where the sanitary system is entirely public, there should be no doubts in the fact that the government can limit our decisions in a situation of sanitary emergency. Because if hospitals collapsed it would not be our responsibility, in fact we would only be complaining about it.

Revising the role of the State in Italy would imply many changes, starting with those services, subsidiary and free privileges we always receive. A fined democracy like the Italian one spoils. It clouds the sacrifice needed to obtain it.

Those generations who received this great political masterpiece don’t know sacrifice and loss. They yell and shout, convinced that democracy means doing and saying whatever we want, without proposing and only claiming more and more. The debate on kindreds originates from this presumption.

Thinking about who before us lived decade-long love stories with letters from the frontline makes me smile. I sadly laugh in front of the inherent vacuity of our words and gestures, in front of the void this irreversible and epochal crisis has brought to light.

Governments aren’t the ones who lack inventive. It’s a system that cannot invent because it has always had everything. And when you have, with no toil, ideas and ideals are scarce, sacrifice is badly withstood. There are many signs of this pathology of emptiness, for example the pale acrimony that exudes from media, the tool that was born to bring around the best ideas, and that today portraits rudeness and non-debate.

I have heard and read about the lack of vision of this executive, one of the many Italian attempts to self-absolve us of our responsibilities. From 28 March to 28 April in Italy 8,048,329 checks were carried out, 271,535 people were fined, 669 were reported for violation of quarantine imposed for positivity to coronavirus. Small numbers in percentage, but significant in absolute value in an epidemic context that follows exponential laws.

We are complaining about a state that protects us from ourselves. It is paradoxical to complain about the sacrifice that protects us from the abyss. This country must have become allergic to sacrifice.

What did they ask after all? To sacrifice ourselves again, in the name of people, a nation, a common sorrow, which has made no concessions to anyone. That’s a democracy. Dying without appeal, rich or poor, young or old. Is it possible that after two months these people are so weak that they launch themselves into sterile debates about shooting stars and the fall of constitutional freedoms (fallen to protect us from a constitutional right) just to avoid the truth?

Not even during terrorism this many exceptions to the charter were made, someone said. Senator, 239 thousand people have died in the world and if this is our temper it is useless to reflect on a restart, because restarts impose tremendous sacrifices.

Among other things, I quote Gustavo Zagrebelsky, former president of the Constitutional Court. “Whoever says the Constitution is being violated does not know what he is talking about.” Professor, I confirm that unfortunately in Italy many people do not know what they are talking about.

 

This pandemic killed a system. An empty, mete-free system based on visual navigation. It’s taking us back to when we had nothing and we had to build together. And there was no time to lash out at each other, to insinuate hatred among the burning wounds.

Poetry rather stopped during the war, because there was nothing to say. If we have nothing to say, let’s stay silent in honour of those who could not hold the hands of their children one last time.

In life, silence is worth much more than sophistry. I’d like to say this, above all, to those who, from the sacred hall of the Senate of the Republic, used the dead to give impetus to political opinions. If we are to use our words, let’s do so in order to relaunch this country along with a debate that is a harbinger of hope and reconstruction.

We don’t need dialogues on the highest systems, we need unity and the will to ferry this nation beyond the storm, designing ideas of resistance and reaction. We call on board the best intelligence, unite the best energies of this country. Let’s start by asking questions. For our own future.

Emilio Siciliano