Saturday, February 24, 2018



By Ravi T.Y

David Giannini’s poetry and prose poetry collection THE FUTURE ONLY RATTLES WHEN YOU PICK IT UP, explores the myth of Sisyphus, and uses it as an anchoring point to explore topics such as innocence, love, death, and meaning. The book is witty yet genuine, raw yet elusive, and just when you begin to think that it is getting too nostalgic—it dawns on you that you are lost in one of Giannini’s intricate meditations. The book opens with:

“Who would condemn
small children? What
if, with Sisyphus, toddlers
were forced to roll

small stones beside him
on the long push uphill
before the terrible treck
back, all of them compelled

to repeat their acts forever? …

                        …but, could

any of us in this century
bear to look at pebbles
without sensing those kids
forced to stone?”
            Stones, rocks, pebbles, and geodes are reoccurring images that we keep stumbling into throughout this book. When we are not stumbling into rocks we run into things which Giannini has turned into Sisyphean rocks. Giannini weaves a beautiful web of images and symbols throughout his book— each one communicating and building on previous images.
            The book itself is a meta-allusion to Sisyphus’ myth and is broken into three sections, each section characterized by different levels of self-awareness and intention. The first two sections are poetry, while the last section is a section of prose poetry.
            The first section has no title—alluding to Sisyphus’ first encounter with death—where Sisyphus had angered Zeus, and Zeus sends Thanatos (or Hades depending on the version) to chain Sisyphus in Tartarus. Sisyphus convinces Thanatos to show him how his chains work. Thanatos is reluctant at first but eventually yields to Sisyphus’ child-like nagging. Immediately after Thanatos gives him a tutorial Sisyphus binds Thanatos to his own chains—binding death with death. Once death was dead, everyone is freed from death— including the sick and suffering. In Sisyphus’ first encounter with death, he does not expect death; and, his escape is spontaneous, witty, and in some ways very childish.
The first section of Giannini’s book has no title, appearing unplanned and spontaneous. It looks into the loss of innocence and the desire to escape this death (the loss of innocence) through love and companionship. The poems carry a unifying impulse, but at the same time are sporadic and random—like children who ate too sugar for their own good, and are now running around the house yelling delightful words at you. Some of the poems in the first section of the book use left indents making the poem appear as though it was a receding wave or thought, and there is even an erasure of a Petrarchan sonnet on page 11.
Sisyphus’ second escape from death is intentional, but short-lived. After Sisyphus frees death, he is sent back to the underworld. Before going to the underworld, he asks his wife to throw his body into the middle of the public square. Upon reaching the underworld, Sisyphus convinces Persephone to let him go back to the world of the living so that he can convince his wife to give him a proper funeral. But, once he got out of the underworld he did not to go back until Hermes dragged him back by force.
Giannini’s second section is the shortest, but unlike the first section has a title, “A Speaking Born Of Us”. However, this section’s title is also the title of the only poem in the section. This section/poem aspires to find meaning through love and sensuality. The entire section is only nine pages, whereas the first section was about twenty-eight pages long, and the last section was thirty-two pages long. In this context, brevity signifies another level of awareness and the importance that this poem has for Giannini.  Furthermore, the voice that populated this section seemed somber, controlled, and in a way restrained.
Zeus, now furious with Sisyphus’ deception and antics, punishes Sisyphus by forcing him to roll a boulder up a steep hill for all eternity. Every time Sisyphus gets close to the top, the boulder rolls back down, and Sisyphus needs to start over again rolling the boulder back up the hill.
While the first two sections of the book were poetry, the last section of the book is a section of prose-poetry. The third section titled “Vertical Prose Poems” alludes to Sisyphus’ vertical journey upwards. The third section delves directly into the depths of Giannini’s psyche, and does not hesitate at all to put the ‘truth’ on the table. The first prose poem is a hilarious piece about prose poetry itself and is in part Giannini’s way of easing the reader into the section. Nonetheless, this did not really help the unsettling feeling I felt while reading this section. In the previous two sections, I felt as though I was navigating through a dreamlike trance. Then suddenly was shook awake by Giannini’s absurd humor, which is also how and where he tied all his loose ends together. For example in his prose poem “PHILOSOPHERS ASSISTED LIVING”, Giannini writes “Are not stones logical, asks Socrates?” (Giannini 53). Giannini’s use of humor in this section also raises the question of what role awareness plays in humor.
            From Lucretius to Plato, many have interpreted what Sisyphus’ punishment might mean to us. Albert Camus’ lyrical essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” argues that Sisyphus is not as a villain who disobeyed the gods, but instead an absurd hero who was searching for meaning and purpose in an existence devoid of purpose and meaning. Camus says that “One must imagine Sisyphus happy”, because the search for meaning is in and of itself enough to give one purpose and allow one to revolt against the chains fate has wrapped around him/her. A person only dies, Camus argues, when they resign to fate and stop searching for meaning.
Giannini’s take on this myth however is strikingly different from other interpretations. Giannini makes Sisyphus work for him. He turns Sisyphus’ story into an exploration of his own search for meaning and the numerous deaths that he tried to escape. Just about everything we do, whether we realize it or not, can be interpreted as our attempt to escape death. In the end though, this awareness of our constant desire to escape death is in and of itself perhaps the only way for us to find meaning and purpose in life.

Ravi T.Y (Ravi Teja Yelamanchili) is a recent University of Pittsburgh graduate. Ravi is currently working at the MA Executive Office of Education as an Analyst. His writing has previously been published in Sahitya Academi’s Indian Literature, Muse India, Miller’s Pond Poetry Review, and the Taj Mahal Review. He was the winner of the University of Pittsburgh’s Undergraduate Poetry Contest, and the Chelmsford High School Poetry Contest. But mostly, he aspires to be a lifelong student of the Bhagavad Gita.


Newton Free Library Poetry Series--March 2018/ Blair/Larkin/Pruett

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Never Again By Diane Alhafez

Endicott College Undergraduate  Diane Alhafez

Never Again
By Diane Alhafez

            I’m floating on the clear blue water; my arms and legs sprawled out in order to balance my weight. The relentless sun beats down on me, reminding me of its omnipotent presence even as my eyes are closed. This comforting warmth can still be felt through my eyelids, drowning out my sight with the golden hues of its rays. I hear nothing but the faint waves of water as my ears are submerged below the surface of the pool. I stay like this for a while until, out of the corner of my eye, I notice a figure approaching me. Hesitant to leave my seemingly everlasting state of peace, I remain in my position, listening to the gurgled words coming from above. Finally giving in to my conscience, I slowly lift my head up and push my legs down into the water so that I am wading upright in the empty pool. I look up to see my younger cousin Samer staring down at me, “It’s time for dinner,” he says in Arabic. He left the pool about an hour ago and has traded in his blue swim trunks for loose-fitting jean shorts that go down to his knees and a red and gray striped t-shirt. His new red flip-flops squeak as he walks away, reminding me of my all-too-soon required departure from this serenity. I slowly immerse my entire body underwater and carefully open my eyes, taking one last look at the gigantic blue-tiled dolphin below before pulling myself up and out of my safety bubble.

            Dinner was especially chaotic today. We had ordered shawarma from Al-Ayubi and thirteen bodies, all of which belonged to my family members, were roaming around the table and yelling out their orders. Those who had extra fries in their sandwich, those who demanded there be no tomatoes, and those who asked for a side of garlic sauce yelled out their requests and held their hands out in hopes of retrieving their specific sandwiches. Although we were eating at the table outside, their “outdoor voices” were all too much as their ultimatums for dinner lingered in the air. At last, everyone had gotten their own customized shawarma and was happily eating. Quickly, the blaring voices from nearly seconds ago were replaced with the “mmm”’s after each bite and the occasional straw sips of Coca-Cola signifying the satisfaction of a fulfilling meal.

            I look around me and take it in. All of it. From the alternating faded red and tan tiles that make up the entirety of the ground, to the white creaking porch swing that I have fallen asleep on far too many times, to the faces of those who I know and love the most. My uncle Feras is sitting directly across from me, smiling and talking to his wife Bayan. Next to them, their two sons Samer and Amjad gingerly fight each other for the last remaining fry, until my aunt Faten takes her plate of fries and places it in front of them. Her husband, Saher, kisses her cheek, admiring the kindness in her that he had fallen in love with. Their children Basel, Rawan, and Noura are sitting near me. Basel, about twelve years older than my brother Ammar, talks to him about the new movie “Coraline” they are going to watch later tonight. Noura and Rawan sit right near my ear, arguing about who gets to sleep on the bottom bunk tonight, while my mother and grandma laugh at the miniscule topic my cousins consider to be a dilemma. I want this memory and all of those who are part of it to be implanted in my brain. I want this memory to never fade, but instead get stronger as the time goes by.

It is 6:00pm and our flight leaves in about an hour. Our bags have been checked and all that is left is a walk through security and then a short wait at our gate until departure time. We said goodbye to everyone else before we got into the taxi that would be driving us to the airport; my grandma cried a little bit harder this year as she hugged my mother and us. My uncle Feras was the one who hopped in the taxi with us and he is now the one whom we have to say goodbye to. Ammar and I embrace him and then step aside as he and my mother hug and exchange muffled farewells. As it comes time to stamp our passports to get through customs, I turn around and wave a final so long then confidently whisper the words, “See you next year, Syria”.

“Syria Uprisings in Damascus Call for Government Intervention”, “Explosion Kills Hundreds”, “Syria: Not Safe”.

My eyes darted across the television screen and frantically read the fat bold words, scrolling repeatedly below the talking news anchor. A blonde woman in a violet dress introduced the segment as a slideshow of the destruction in Syria played behind her. Photographs of rubble-buried streets and children with bloodied faces bombarded the background. The voice of the news anchor faded, the sound of my family speaking diminished, and all I heard was the jumble of thoughts zooming in my mind. I looked back at how just a mere eight months ago I was in the country I loved so much and how in four months I would have been on a plane back to Syria. But I still had hope. There was no way I was going to give up on my happy place just like that.

One year.

Six years that I had not woken up to the sound of the busy streets below my grandmother’s house.
Six years that I had not fallen asleep to the soft chirping of grasshoppers which lulled me into a deep slumber.

Six years that I had not seen my family.

I missed the way my uncle’s eyes would crease every time he laughed, usually about an inside joke he and my mother had. I smiled as I thought of the times Bayan would do my hair when I came out of the shower and tell me about how she longed to have a daughter of her own someday. I could vividly picture riding around my grandmother’s house on scooters with Samer. I recalled the fact that sweet, innocent Amjad wouldn’t sit anywhere else except for on my lap. I reminisced of the days that Rawan, Noura, Basel, my brother and I would wander the streets and evidently end up at Farhan’s, a small corner store, where we bought loads of chips and candy.

Everything is different now.

Feras’ hair has thinned and his smile lines got deeper.
Bayan finally got that daughter that she had always wanted.
Samer and Amjad barely remember me.
Noura got married and now has two beautiful girls.
Basel just received his diploma from graduate school.
Rawan is living in London, pursuing a career in Biology.
My cousins on my dad’s side all have kids.
Obaida died in a car crash. 

            My family on my mother’s side all reunited last year in Lebanon. Everyone looked so different yet so familiar at the same time. There were even those whom I had never met before in my life. Mouna, Bayan’s daughter was six years old! Six! She hadn’t ever heard of me. Elma, Noura’s daughter was just a year old. Who would have thought that the spontaneous and hopelessly romantic Noura was now a mother?! Life is moving too fast for me and I can’t help but shed a tear at the fact that those memories will remain just that. They will be nothing more than figments of my imagination, scenes in the back of my mind, mirages projected solely through my eyes. I can try to revisit these thoughts as much as I want to, but that is where the limitation of my memory will take me. Never again will I be able to smell the air of Syria as a ten-year-old girl as I walk down Al-Dablan street with my cousins, the rest of my family waiting back home for us. Never again will I be able to stand in line at Rainbow Bakery below my grandma’s house to pick up mini chocolate and vanilla flavored desserts for the guests. Never again will my entire family be under one roof.

Never again will I feel completely engulfed in such happiness. 

****  Diane Alhafez is a freshman at Endicott College majoring in BIO/BIOTECH hoping to become an orthopedic doctor. When not studying, she enjoys free-writing, making a list of food locations to visit all over the world, and summer vacations with family. While both of her parents were born and raised in Syria, Diane was born in Beverly, MA. She did, however, visit Syria every summer up until the revolution. Nowadays, the memories of her beloved country live on through her writings. This is her first publication.