Cathy Altmann – Lascia ch’io pianga

Cathy Altman LE P&W February 2019

Download PDF Here

Lascia ch’io pianga, poems by Cathy Altmann.

Cathy Altmann is a poet, teacher and violinist from Melbourne, Australia. Her first collection, Circumnavigation (Poetica Christi Press, 2014), won the FAW Anne Elder Award. Her second collection, things we know without naming (Poetica Christi Press) was published in December 2018. Cathy’s poetry has appeared in journals, anthologies, The Disappearing website and on Melbourne’s trains as part of the Moving Galleries project. She holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne and currently teaches English and Latin at Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Melbourne.

Lascia ch’io pianga

In that ease of encores, she
is singing from memory.
So familiar, even the man
nearby moans along. The cellist
has freed his fingers, eyes closed.
The violinist looks upwards
as if she knows this moment
might be holy. The day
over, birdsong in
the branches, and men
and women pulled into
the soprano’s weeping
cadences. An ache
moves along my cheek
bone. I see the singer loosen
her hands, the grief
of every woman spilling
out. The Italian
like filigree, etched
onto each note, her
body holding
back the sweet
danger in her throat –
the intimacy of
bow against string,
the harpsichordist’s
fingers elaborating
those last echoes
of her song, which is
the wild bird we have
kept caged too long,
the tears we never
shed, the impossible
sound of shells and
the breaking of birth.
She is unburdened
and we are undone –
our eyes speaking
the one seamless


Only the first peace
lasts. After that it is
one continuous war,
broken only by smoke,
broken only by burying
the dead. People speak
different languages but
mean the same, as they
drag the bodies onto
stretchers, move them
away in armoured cars,
and deposit them in graves
on the hillside. The white
crosses fly like flocks
of doves, cast adrift
in the sky but keeping
their formation. They
shadow the land below,
they rain hopeless tears,
they speak in tongues.

Over Fifty

The instinct for survival.
Those cacti we planted
out the back of the
worker’s cottage in Carlton.
We pranced on the couches
to U2, cooked rhubarb
and collapsed conspiratorially
over the dishes. Drinking cider
and dealing with administration,
we meet at a café. Jasmine
threads the iron fence.
Her eyes still widen; she calls
me matey. Over coffee the fond
toasting of each other’s parents,
the pitfalls of growing
up, over fifty, our next
holiday in Italy. What the sun
hasn’t done to our cheeks,
our violins curling up at the seams
(near the Viking Saddle we sung
under stars; the mountains
hung like curtains around us).
When we step out it
is night. Sharp as pain
we kiss goodbye.

©Cathy Altmann