Joanna Clapps Herman

Joanna Clapps Herman

Joanna Clapps Herman has had 40 poems, micro fiction, essays and stories published since 2020: in Odyssey PM, MUTHA, Pummerola, The Ocean State Review, Italian Americana, Persimmon Tree, Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine, Short Beasts, Alice Says Go Fuck Yourself, Storied-Stuff, and Subnivean. Her book length publications include, When I am Italian: Quando sono italiana, exploring the question of whether it’s possible to be Italian if you weren’t born in Italy, No Longer and Not Yet and The Anarchist Bastard: Growing Up Italian in America. She has co-edited two anthologies; Wild Dreams and Our Roots Are Deep with Passion.

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Mare Nostrum

Mare Nostrum, The Green Sea, The White Sea, The Great Sea, The Mediterranean rushed into me, crashing, swelling over, blinding me with its glares: pushing me into the ancient ruins again. My sea, my waters, my fluids. These waters have washed the edges of every bright perimeter, it’s yes, wine dark under the turquoise, also the sailing and selling from every bordering terrain: purple dyes milked from mollusks, olive oil pressed and poured, stinking garum, perfect Kouros, Kores forever stepping into the future, endless wars and poets. I finally saw, the frescoes of Villa Livia’s sunken summer dining room covered floor to ceiling with a cool garden of fluttering leaves, birds in flight, pomegranates, quince, all for the guests of Augustus. Afterward I have a gelato slowly licking its sweet cream.


Frescos are not like other paintings. They are created on wet plaster by applying dry pigments mixed with pure water to the wet, just plastered wall. As frescos dry the images created merge with and becomes a part of that wall on which they have been painted. When I look at a fresco my gaze falls into the dry matte surface. Frescos have the look and feeling almost of skin. I am drawn in viscerally, making me want to reach out and touch them.
     When light carries an image through air meeting the moistures in our eyes that light is literally bent at that location and moment. Perhaps because the various fluids in our eyes act as a crossing point between air and eye to usher the image into our nerves, then to our brains, those fluids act as a remoisturizing element. This suggests to me that this moment reawakes the act of the painter mixing the pigment with the water, allowing us to re-experience that moment of creation of wet and dry mixing and merging into image, into the plastered wall. So we are absorbed into the fresco ourselves. In the same way that a fresco is made by the pigments merging with and becoming a part of plastered wall so too, our perception becomes a part of the frescoed wall. Pure, a fresco calls us into itself.
     And there fixated we stay.

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Poetry in this post: © Joanna Clapps Herman
Published with the permission of Joanna Clapps Herman