This poem is taken from Stand 233, 20(1) May - July 2022.

Elliott Burnett The Moon

It was winter, the first time, just after they had moved. Before, they were living near the Olympic Park with three other girls. Her and him – I had met her near the Palazzo Nuovo and she had invited me to hang out at their place; when I walked into the apartment, there he was. He stared between me and the screen of his computer: once down at the computer, once up at me, twice down, twice at me, then decided – he waved me over and flipped the laptop round. Shaking camcorder footage of fighting in the Balkans. People crouched in the street and waved their guns in the air before someone off-camera shot them dead. He did a big cartoon-dog lip-lick: ‘Come,’ he said in deliberate, slow Italian. ‘Watch.’ He said this to me in September, just after we had all arrived in Turin. Me from New York, her from Wales, him from Sardinia.

But now it was deep in winter and the two of them lived across the bridge on the other side of the river Po, near the church of the Gran Madre, their backs up against the hillsides. She had a way of explaining everything along tangents, refracted through anecdote, and so when I asked her why they had ended up at this new place on their own, she would tell me about when the Sardo took on two Ukrainians in the Piazza d’Armi outside the stadium, and how even with knives they couldn’t cow him. Or she would tell me about the time when, to protest a driver who kept the doors open despite the cold, he stepped out in front of a tram and pissed all over it. She offered the thread between these stories, and it was explanation enough.

We were friends. I would cross the bridge to visit them and sleep on their couch at the end of long nights, kept going by his overcooked ravioli and habit of force-feeding me cigarettes. The trip back to the place I shared with a Milanese guy on Corso Belgio was long and slow but mercifully just the one tram, taken from the stop in the middle of Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the square sitting back on my side of the river across from the Gran Madre. It was the first winter, still first enough to be exciting, to be a time of meeting people and always thinking to ask them why they had come here, because in the first winter it was natural that everyone needed a reason. She had said: ‘To come and meet him.’ He never answered, just remarked on the arrogance of northerners. One night, she realized that she had never asked me the same question, but I waved it away and said it was fine, don’t worry about it. I didn’t stay that night. I said that I was tired and walked back to Vittorio Veneto.  

I had been to that piazza on my first night in the city, a night under a clear sky, a night before I knew her or him, and as I waited for a tram a drunk guy wandered up and started shouting at me. I didn’t know much Italian yet and so could only shrug, but he was okay: he was doing what he needed to do. There was just the one word of his, ‘luna’, that I could pick out. He pointed to the sky and I looked up and saw the moon hanging there, a sickly yellow balloon strung from the roof of the Gran Madre, bobbing above us, waiting to shrivel, deflate, and disappear.


It was summer now, the only one. I was in Piazza Vittorio Veneto again. I was there with her. We were there together, because she was thinking about leaving the Sardo, and so she wanted distance, but only the right amount of distance: the space from here to the far side of the river. He was somewhere back over the bridge, maybe at the foot of the Gran Madre. I looked up at the night sky and saw the moon, struggling away from us now, tugging against its tether.
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