Amatrice – a poem

Graham Mort, visited Amatrice in September 2016, five weeks after the major earthquake.

We approached Amatrice through wooded hillsides, mountains in the distance, white clouds, the road twisting and climbing through tight bends. At first, all seemed peaceful, until an eerie sense of desertion set in. The fields were empty of workers and livestock. Then houses that looked perfectly sound showed vertical cracks in their structure. We passed the first demolished houses on the outskirts of the village, a crane at work, plaster dust choking the air as we followed a track built from the hardcore of fallen buildings. We were greeted by volunteer aid workers, clearly traumatised from their nightmare of pulling survivors from their homes. We met children in the improvised school, saw the work Save the Children was doing to give them some continuity, glimpsed the fallen church and ruined high street, cordoned off where so many people had died. The sense of human solidarity was both palpable and moving. What struck me when making the visit and in writing the poem afterwards was the sense of the cataclysmic cancellation of people’s futures, the immense effort to re-engage, the formation of an imaginative capacity that, from now on, would have to take account of such events.

Translation provided by CUIDAR partners Anna Grisi and Flaminia Cordani
of Save the Children Italy.

Photos © Graham Mort


The sound of dust sifting to dust; an almost
silence, almost touchable. We took

the new track built from rubble – the old hair-
pin road collapsing into woods –

through a mist of talc where they were pulling
down a house; past police cars, aid

trucks, houses cracked open in spoiled clutches
and hens running wild under our

tyres, over the whisper of fallen chestnut leaves.

The mountains were the same, we

guessed: clouds puffing out their slow white
smoke above a village of tents, a

new school timbered by joiners from the north.
The main street tilted in my lens, the

church steeple that killed a family in their beds,
the old school fallen from itself into a

kind of ignorance. Workers who’d pulled the dead
from sleep joined our photograph:

volunteers, their eyes hard to bear. They took
our hands, didn’t want to let us leave

just then, as if we were a lost future’s children
straying home. Amatrice, they said,

bearing witness, their blue jackets torn at the
sleeves. Amatrice: its leaves shivering,

their palms unreadable, lying still in ours.


Il suono della polvere ritorna polvere; un
silenzio che e’ quasi possibile toccare. Abbiamo preso

il nuovo sentiero costruito tra le macerie –
la vecchia strada collassa nei boschi –

attraverso una foschia di talco dove stavano abbattendo una casa;
passano macchine della polizia, camion
con gli aiuti, case squarciate
e le galline che corrono sotto i nostri

pneumatici, oltre il sussurro delle foglie di castagne cadute.
Le montagne erano le stesse, abbiamo

immaginato: nuvole che soffiano il loro lento bianco
fumo sopra un villaggio di tende, la

nuova scuola forgiata dai falegnami del nord.
La strada principale inclinata nella mia lente, il

campanile della chiesa che uccise una famiglia nei loro letti,
la vecchia scuola caduta su se stessa in una

specie di ignoranza. Lavoratori che avevano tirato fuori i morti
dai letti si uniscono alla nostra fotografia:

i volontari, i loro occhi difficili da sopportare. Loro hanno preso
le nostre mani, e non volevano lasciarci andare

proprio allora, mentre andavamo a casa,
come se fossimo i figli di un futuro perso. Amatrice, hanno detto

ne e’ testimone, le loro giacche azzurre strappate nelle
maniche. Amatrice: le sue foglie tremano,

i loro palmi inossidabili, si stringono ancora ai nostri.


Graham Mort, from ‘Black Shiver Moss’, Seren, 2017.