Entry - MAG Poetry Prize 2010

The word for lost

by John Keenan

Non parlo italiano
What did I say that made you disappear
Into the old town’s labyrinth
Of white houses so tightly packed
There seemed no room to fit in streets?
Mi scusi
I followed the sound of your footsteps
But the whisper of espadrilles on cobbles
Was swallowed up by the thick heat clamped
Over the piazza, empty in the afternoon.
Non parlo italiano
A window shuttered so I couldn’t catch its eye.
Round another blind corner I was tricked
By a purple splash of bougainvillea
The colour of your shirt.
Mi scusi
Your scent was everywhere, driving me mad:
Sweet fig, lavender, lemon, vine.
The church was black inside and I groped
Hopelessly for the holy water stoop.
Non parlo italiano
In the end it was you who found me.
You put your hand on my shoulder.
I gabbled, ‘What if it had been the kids?
I don’t even know the word for lost.’
Mi scusi
You replied patiently,
Hai visto il mio ragazzo? E perso,
For a lost boy. Or you might say,
La mia ragazza, for a lost girl.’

Added: 29.04.2010

Judges' comments on this poem


Original, well-constructed, lyrical though not metrical. Rather like a short story. Leaves questions in the mind.


This is one of the best poems I've ever read in my life, it sent chills down my spine and pushed up my hair ends. Bravo.


Original, affecting, but the last stanza seems to come too soon, just as tension is building.


Couldn't work out the scenario - was really pleasantly suprised by speech at the end. Excellent at suspense, hot Italian streets, being lost