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Sicily Enough

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Serialized in the short-lived Olympia Magazine. On a self-imposed exile in a Sicilian village, a gal with three kids forces her own rebirth in this Mediterranean take on Lawrence's Plumed Serpent.


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Sicily Enough
Claire Rabe
This page copyright © 2006 Olympia Press.
Intro
Dogshadow thin I arrive, carrying my third child like a weapon through this old town, while the only thing I feel is my hair tight, hurting where the baby holds on. A fierce clock, she reminds my vague shocked self that I must function. We kiss and I inhale her breath like food, warm as the milk I flowed into her some months ago. October in Sicily, and there is the first volcano I have ever seen. Cool mountain, lambent with snow on its mouth; how can it be so hot inside? I buy grapes, wash them in the fountain while brood y dark men watch me bending over. I suddenly feel well-fleshed, and the skin of grapes slides agreeably over my tongue. The baby has fun spitting with them. I buy a great deal more to bring to the other children waiting at home. It will be easy to eat in this country. Long walks, up and down steps, going from view to view, the town spread around in broken architecture, painted in tired colour that was once red. Walls better than current art, moonpitted, incredibly dry. What a sun has made all this happen! Centuries of summer, centuries of cats and dogs breeding under Roman arches. Women who still wear black, faces yellow, a smear o f bad flesh under the eyes that arouses me and suggests a hundred perversities. Eve ry woman has breasts and thighs and hair in her armpits; I see them as black curlin g flowers. Their legs are strong and hairy, men do not force them to shave; here they do not alter animals or their passions. This directness, this use of the body attracts me at once to the Sicilians and makes me feel warm. There is no subtle sex here, no American sex, but coupling itself. The day for a Sicilian has happened if he has made love. It seems empty to sleep unless it is post-coital; it's lonely. I long for a lover here as I have longed for dogs t o sleep with in my virtuous days. I want warm animals so near me that they are inside. Desire grows on me. I see it reflected in the men w ho stare at me, their lust is an approval of my fattening body. I eat so much now, just to look at the vegetables is to feel nourished. A kind of cauliflower that grows almost nowhere else is in season. The whole top of it is painted deep purple, formidable as the colour runs off into the cooking water till finally eaten, white again, drenched in pungent olive oil. My children are so well here. They break rough brea d and dunk it in sauce, they eat garlic and tomatoes; our cuisine is the maid's who makes lentil soup with pasta, broccoli with rice. We seem to be in a farmer's kitchen. My house is a good smell, while in the garden pomegranates burst on trees and oranges hang like lanterns. Everything here becomes hazed over by sun and abundance. If something terrible has happened to me I no longer remember it so harshly. I feel as though I have a million senses now, held together by brain and guts. All I have known and suffered and longed for come together for me in Sicily. Good and bad, hard and soft, there is everything in those four words, any combination of them means something. Good soft bad hard or good hard
bad soft or. If I am to go on living, and I must, s ince I have six black eyes looking at me, since my children are happy and do not understand t hat someone has died, then I shall become part of this landscape. I will grow into the se trees, into these hills, and wait and stare and hope for the volcano to erupt. There he is, small angry-faced man. As he stands up to greet me a ray of sun slanting through the window grabs his eyes. They glare at me in the agate yellow of certain birds, the pupils pinned on me. I have seen that yellow in the amber I found on the beaches of the Baltic, where I played as a child. I have seen that yellow in the eyes of Clarita when she lusted for me. She was rapacious, like the watching bird, her eyes cold yellow pointed exactly to the centre of me. As his are now. “You are American?” “You speak English.” “Not very well.” “Oh, too well. I want to learn Italian.” “You will have a Sicilian accent if you learn from me.” “I want to.” This will be my first lover. I must prepare myself as for the first time ever. My hair needs to be cut, no more pins in it. I exam ine my fine skin and bathe it carefully. I polish my children as one does beautif ul apples. My walks have a direction now. I go to his bar where he stands in the doorway waiting, sure of me. I had no idea that he is the richest young man in town, the most beautiful. It is his eyes I look for. We work slowly, he is patient, always teaching, so aware that I am getting ready for him. We go for many drives, I admire the countryside, and he takes me as far as the snow of the mountain. How magical the preparation for love. In the cafe I meet his Sicilian friends. There, eve ry woman who passes is judged. When they approve, “buona” is uttered with a hoarse gusto, and I picture at once an entwining of genitals like the display of entrails in a butcher shop. The face of the woman is looked at last. She must s imply not be ugly. A robust body with abundant breast and rear and a fattish face is a fine “cavallo” or “vaca.” The inspection is continuous, noisy with smacks and his ses, an obvious need to make each opinion public, to share. They tell each other exac tly how they feel and how they would treat each case. I have learned quickly to know what they say if only by their gestures. Beautiful in the way of mutes, hands weave away at the meaning of their talk. Hands measure intensity of meaning, but a small downward motion of the mouth destroys an entire argument. My mother had this way of destroying me. Her mouth is thin and the slightest doubt is immediately visible in the downward arch of her lips—and there is a real shock in me as I know that she is against me. Her mouth curves at me like a snake, her face changes so much there is no chance for the girl to impress this judge. Everything has been smudged over. Is it then that I begin to lie? Or do I just begin to sneak? Sometimes I try again to tell her what I feel and again she makes this unbearable face. More and more I hide what I feel and soon am such an expert that I even cease to feel. The seduction of my mother failed. She will not marvel at me. As did Clarita when she caressed my young body with her old appreciation, t he yellow glowing in her eyes. My mother made me cold. I slept with a million blanket s and no heat came; my body was sealed off in a cold young coffin. And here is a country without music, books, paintin g, only certain lusts. Of course I
must live here; this is why I came to this quicksand where there is no space for sadness, only quick frantic sucking motion, up, down. Night. Palm trees staring straight up, sky soft around stars, clouds moving through the heads of trees. Olive, cypress and palm, their different foliage hard in the black distance, trees so separate from one another that one cannot imagine a forest. Palm, cypress, olive; leaf, shape, size, everything unique, blowing up in to the sky all at once, the night dark, glowing with such ornament, waiting for its own end. In the cemetery night pushes against what was, while the cypress rises and small birds rest. Sound of mandolins in the tavern; sweet and liquid, played by two ugly men, drifting around Roberto like a habit, he hears none of it, just stares at my thighs. The first music I've been able to listen to in a long time, it does not frighten me into the past. Red wine, fresh from the slopes of the mountain, ch eap and delicious like penny candy, I drink it fast, it seems to improve my Italian. The room, square and low, underlit, with a skinny dog asleep on one of the chairs. The owner dedicates a song to me about the torment of love, smiling at the “nuovia coppia” that has the town talking. I feel pleasant, involved with everything and everyone there. A ditchdigger I have seen working along the streets, dark and beautiful, now dressed in a marvelous velveteen jacket that shines like a chestnut, nods to me but I do not answer. I resent his trying to make real my flirtation with him. I only like to wa tch him working, to dream about his strength and simplicity, I really wish he would not confuse...
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