Three Poems of Sicily


With B. in Sicilia

even this weather has fits:
the sun sulks off and on
like our capriccioso current;
blizzard that promises ice age
breaks its word
and streets forget the snow
in quarto d'ora;
rain too is hit and run:
all bets are off.

this day fumes clouds
throws tantrum winds
and finally holds its breath:
turns blue.
bright often but always un-fair
this is the weather
that cancels all clues
and projections, but one:
this calm can't last.

I try to laugh
while you
like etna
brood on my horizon:
you're always there;
you're always smoking.

Tempo Rubato

The halls' rough walls
are far apart as stadium's;
steel-treaded steps, raw concrete ramps
might lead us to some locker room or swimming pool
but don't.
I half expect to smell chlorine, but I smell
nothing. The man ahead of us does, too
-- he has to say they need to dust down here;
he has to hear himself thinking --
and then it comes my turn to see men hang
around the entrance: most gone back to bone
but dandified and wary as their storefront
grandsons outside. Mothers, wives
grown daughters rest a shade
below, around the corner; undisturbed
because the children are so quiet at play
and self-sufficient:
One calcareous doll lolls in another doll's lap;
two more hold hands
and even babies need no better tending.

I posed no questions upstairs
where our lire notes were basketed by cappuccini
paired across from postcards,nodding brown smiles.
I could have asked why this -- perche questo?
but I wouldn't understand italian answer and why-
ever it was done, it was done:
Instead of grave or urn or crypt, a peg
or open shelf, in company.
These dead, a century's elite
meet here forever
as though for opera; sinfonia;
as if for fragrant ices in sunset piazza
-- limetta, fragola.

As these were congregant in life
they mean to party on beyond it:
festa interminabile, and we're gate-crashers
despite official welcoming.
We poke among the townsfolk, note proud finery
and we remark, appalled, on how our garb
outlasts us, while flash systems flare
-- my family's among them.

Soon I realize I'm waiting for the singing.
Locally canzone break continual from crowds;
serenate loft con fuoco from the sidewalks;
ballate lyric over traffic jams, brilliante;
romanze rise from roadwork and construction jobs
-- ever con agilita, con anima

but there's no voce here
no anima
no sky: another sense of aria.

The music words were all I came with
and they don't apply.
The air's so close
I desperately nose in
to read surviving travel tags.
With my tall son
I see how carefully Francesca has been labeled
for this journey;
Kevin says "it's like you use to label me
when I went away without you."
As we must do, will do
Francesca has gone off alone somewhere.
Although limoni silks lie flat on her
as on an ironing board
she's tagged to make it safely home
if it takes another hundred years
of making tricky flight connections.

Somebody loved her that much, yes:
the string's on tight
as it still can be.

We move on to learn more names
that we will never match to faces:
Carolina is the rose gown;
Antonino is the stuffed-shirt banker getup;
and suspended Guiseppe is the jauntiest ensemble
on the north wall -- he's complete with rakish cap
and cabled up with smart new underchin cording
no doubt replacement for cords broken

to arpeggio, I smile. I muse on broken chords,
ensembles; the music wants back in.
I start to grin then; stop
when I begin to hear the undersong.
It's all strings -- lentamente,lamentabile,
doloroso. Damn forbidding. It's inviting me to go
and see to mine

as well I might have.
Three hours' drive away, another touring company
was taking very similar amusement:
We were rings and watches, cameras and cufflinks
silverware, bracelets, necklaces, suitcases;
we had no faces.
We were nothing to them
-- not famiglia, not even amici --
so if they learned our names, they lost them
sooner than sight of the merchandise.

This door won't close.
The clothes are undrawered onto cold terrazzo.
Furioso, the blood boils.
Puppets for police
my hands shape to what's missing
-- describe and then inscribe the losses.
List's a litany of relatives and lovers:
my grandmother's cameos are my grandmother;
my father is a wedding band worn thin;
an uncle is turquoise;
I once was married to an emerald;
my opals are a man with quiet blue eyes
and so on.
Faces rise
and each is eaten by the air.

Senza fioretta, unembellished
I am berry ripe for bird;
mouse taunting cat;
sensationally visible, and attack seems certain
for my anger has massed armies.
From spacious villa over argos sea
I spy their ships harboring.
the answer's sly: proceed di salto
-- allow hot sky to shelter also me.
I sound the notes acciacciare, leap to clouds.
they're sheep. escape's between them.

This blinding bright is pizzicato:
it plucks flesh
away
until I'm featureless as you, Francesca
-- whose eyes shine where my jewels do.
An old skin falls from my scalp to my toenails;
an ancient moral, oppor-
tune, occurs:
What you have to hold onto
try to hold onto;
whatever it takes
try to take.

My instruments -- piano, flute, typewriter --
still are here, so I possess the sweetness of
what's left, become chantress.
Beneplacito as the gods
I build of one spring day
one little operetta
-- stealing this from those with less:
a favorite dress
some bones
a name.

My guilt's as cool a kernel
as the dark film coiled in the Nikon
when it strikes me I'm not sure
you wear the lemon silk, Francesca;
that might have been Giovanna
or one of the Marias.
I will not go back to check
for nothing's a battuta here;
not only is not the same stream twice
but you could rise from it with seven heads
or scales,in hades or in siracusa.
I've had enough of modulations for a while
Francesca; it's sufficient that I shared your
palling off today, and for you too
I'm robbing time.

Now I have played all parts
in the Sicilian obbligato
-- anarchic as the laws of language:
viol
viola
violation; an orchestration for heavy strings
and very light fingers.

Macchina Ballerina

Is the lid securely shut? Now is he surely gone?
He's left me nearly lame again: He watched all weekend
- wound the key so sternly that this time I thought I'd break
before whirl ended; legs spun crazy as carnival swings.
Downhinged into this mercy quiet
I pend from dancing pole, gulp breath;
feet fall and arched arms shudder limp.
It hurts as much to move as not to.

Later I'll unbrace my back and
drop to disc of dancing glass and
crawl on my own image to its edge:
descend to treasures.
I have five days to heal, alone
inside the velvet cave
where comforts hide, richer than ever.
Slowly I'll feel better.

Unhooking's tedious: After this long skin is meat
- the mast almost embedded.
There's his rhythm to get past;
my dizziness and stiffness
and the sudden change of light.
I find that nothing sparkles right:
Familiar passages mislead me.

On Monday even the view hurts:
Diamond sun's a bother; emerald could as well
be bottleglass. I consider liquor.
I'm segmental as an insect - worse, disjoined:
parts of me creep off in differing directions, and I over-
spill myself, get stuck. I squint and bumble;
reread; overedit; stumble over amethysts;
half blind the cat's eye
- finally charm myself to chores.

Monday afternoon's spent doing what I think
that he'd like done;
I'm always wrong and more tired Tuesday
but by then the drainhole isn't bleak - it's onyx:
Honestly it sings Scarlatti, sterling
while I'm rinsing socks. There's so much here.
My trust of senior stores annexes now to fabling brights;
my vessel's cushioned veins extend;
effulge; indulge me.

It is very precious
and so European
how the faucet that I dare
let drip
taps amalthean airs
leaks brilliants:
carnelians, after the rosy manner of Mozart;
beryls burbling fresh off Haydn's spumy tide.

By noon I ache to write, as long as inspiration spears me something easy.
Nothing's easy on these Tuesdays; I write hard.
Toward evening, when I trap a tub of oddly opal water, I suspect
I can transluce myself in it, succeed
and by the time I pop like toast to twirl his second weeknight's measure
I am silican; silkiline:
Every fissure in my frame is live with luster
and when cracks are lamps they find us what he need.

The next three days I'm so whole I'm enormous
- opening vaults by synapsis, sowing seed
pearls. Everywhere prizes twink back at me:
Plush morningbirds trill coral and platinum;
moonstones bloom in offhand corners, stemmed on jade;
reliably, bath iridesces while the drain concerti vary to Vivaldi.
Mail brings a trove of gold finer than most of the friendships, and
scarp from here to harbor rolls down opulent as alphabet's loose stones.

The next two nights I practically fancy his exercise
- almost bless brief stretch at that barre:
Spinning his steps as pause from the others
I understand the uses of iron-
light; pattern not spi-
rit, exposed in reflec-
tion of safe mirror plat-
form.

So axiology advances:
by perfect cuts
and turns
in surgical glare.
I take my oldest cue:
Art too must suffer scrutiny and hacking;
every glinting thing takes punishing to form
before its fire can stay.

I justify life's hurts and halts that way;
now also judge my gems when mornings free me
and I facet, grind and burnish gratefully
for here I'm steeled on just one tune besides heart's own
and here hoard's copious to technics: ampled with the wealths of oz.
At best I'm close to wholly thankful, and at worst
- recalling I was never much at home in Kansas -
I contend that I can gladly kick the ruby slippers off; hoof when I have to.

I note as well his rote
as choreography
might spiral past its straight-line logic:
act as entrance:
The door is only light
- it can be anything.
The more possible routes, the better my chances to find it
since the same path will never serve twice.

Wednesday, Thursday
everything angels me softly;
touches more gently, the farther I go
- and guides truly, or I'd never get there.
With luck enough, time Friday oozes amber
and entire, week's efflorescence starts to set: one honeyed amulet.

Before connections fail
before the visions pale away
before the landscape flattens
from long pirouette
the spirit I
- wild goldeneye -
will dazzle down to
dive through slickenside shimmer.

Less luckily, more likely, his alarm clang
sounds me up from baubles still embrangled
and I surface glazed in deliquescent pudding
- dripping mad, because the only going back is starting over
and I made a thousand combinations;
had mere hundreds left to try before ephiphanous gelation, sure
as these unconstellated crystals wander.
Your damned detour dance is plunder.

No wonder I have nothing to give you:
You seal my corridors as fast as Pharoah's;
unresource me while two days, three nights, you critic unforgiving.
However hard I try to hold the pose - the one acceptable;
to make the moves - the few acceptable -
so long a lashing to your standard
wounds. My flesh, always unlax to tethers
tears and sinews snag; bones dry to schist, unrind.


Last Monday I was meagered to pain's shape
- scant as a guess.
I couldn't even beg; my prayer was colorless.
At first my tools felt alien as Eskimo's
and assets dearthed to nothing worth remarking
- only ruby sheen of books, the topaz
tea and the irrefutable, through glass
my bright new sapphire: sea.

Since then I've parlayed these to fortunes;
known hours and hours and hours without you
as diamonds and emeralds and pearls.
Observe how prosperous I've grown
carving in bloodstone.
This week I won: My nisus has been crowned by nimbus.
I am princess palladous, rare catalyst; I've spun the straw to gold.

Palingenetic on this payday
I am pricelessly bespangled
- gracious spacious jacinth terraces
and reckoning another week's worth
in the coin of no common
wealth, beneath a slab of lapis sky
which your approaching, tenebrific
turns nightward, toward iolite.

You scarify and stare, and all my treasurings unmatter:
They're unmonetized within your pandect
- thus unspendable; unreal.
Tall evergreens matchsticked of jasper shatter
- needle down on me like broken glass rain
as once again your absolute, no-option bulb blinks on;
blanks every radiance to gaud.
It toads my speech past jewelled explaining

or while this evening's wine, the week's last glimpse of garnet
dims, I'd say I made it through today.
I heard the ur-song
and the bird came.
The main gate opened to the core:
the door that channels light to light. I got it right!

Just in time I made the last adjustments to manipulate, align
and danced barefoot on touchstone.

There is richness that is mine, and it tests true as any;
I would gladly share
but you insist that you don't care for fairytales.
So many times I've aimed to speak, and missed
and - misomechanist - delayed the transmutation into doll;
attempting to discuss another dancing master:
one who whispers tasks to us, through treasures - saying Yes
take pleasure here; it's yours. Please step this way.


But you're uneasy with a rival: You blast
deep, to blow remains of all my careful placements
- just in case they're really more than lies.
The spirit flies and you conclude that I'm deluded
for I'm quite denuded of all evidence.
I lack the slightest glint of proof
but raise the roof with swearing to remember
what resplends: which is not you.

I promise I'll be tunneling again the moment that your back is turned
and warn you getting through's the only thing I view worth doing.
Your tried steps take at least the same toll
yet haven't led me once beyond the wall.
I opt for any means at all, and may.
No matter what collapses, snaps and smashes
this time you essay to recreate me
I will limp away.

Daring you to find a better way to break me
I make you hate me.
You of course see nothing more than what's before you:
just your naked empress hissing; spitting frogs.


1984, 2011 Katherine Anne Harris. All Rights Reserved.