In The Oldest Hands In The World, Daniele Pantano writes directly to the point, through a variety of pieces which are contrasting in many ways. Some turns of phrase are written with a gentle eloquence, subtly conveying their imagery to the reader; others are blunt, callous and deeply shocking, catching their audience off-guard with their hard-hitting impact. The expanse between one subject matter and another are at times gaping, a gathering of scattered thoughts and musings, but woven together throughout both by their common themes and by a reflective, distanced and somewhat captivating tone.
One of the most notable issues perhaps in many of the pieces is a dissatisfaction with life, with achievements, with memories–and a desire to escape these is central to the heart of this striking collection. In “Mountain Life”, the writer dreams of a “perfect poem” arriving; yet this is not all–this culmination of everything strived for will never quite be enough, and something more dramatic is somehow mirrored in it and desperately yearned for:
“I will type it, read it once, and throw it away…
Kiss my kids. And her…
Walk to the fjord and stay for this first ferry,
Reckoning how not to write the subsequent life.“
There is a bleakness seen here in the abandonment of all gone before that is reinforced throughout from the “child’s very first nightmare” in the “blow of absence” after a mother’s suicide in “Escape Artist”, to the dull depression of “Morning Walk”:
“Today, let me not ponder life or love or
Who fans the flame at the center of all things
Today, let me simply accept the bombinating
Presence of death in everything I see.“
Each of these windows into a time and place are looked back upon from a further place, and these memories come to perhaps their most moving culmination in “Every So Often”:
As a reminder: nothing
In our lives disappears.
It all merely lingers–
Faceless, here and there.
And every so often
It knocks on your door
Seeking shelter for the night.“
In “Escape Artist”, Pantano writes of “Language nestled up against silence“, a very intriguing concept resurfacing throughout this book. The constant battle between the finding of a voice and the failure to do so is prominent. Indeed, even the way this book is laid out gives reference to this, in its extravagant spacing across blank unwritten sheets that seem to give some nod towards, among all these words that did come, the many more that still have not.
These pieces tell quite simply the story of a life–its ups, its down, the realism of its fraught and its peaceful periods, its bitter memories and its fond ones, its deepest all-encompassing desires. Pantano has crafted in this anthology a patchwork of perspectives from various vantage points along the way, but maintains through all of these stages a narrative that his reader can’t help but be drawn into, engage with and long to follow, until, in his own words: “its descrescendo to the coda’s final note“.