to my grandmother Isabella
At night, in the car, smashing a puddle while from the brambles drips a water conscious of the path unfolding in order to give its contribution to the roots of the plants, Ettore and I get worked up against the government, in order to make sure that our values remain alive at least in a language between humans, and inside me I have a clear image of the void that I would have to defend if it were to come at the expense of others, but descanting on this certainty that has upset the custom of our gaze costs me a fatigue that I don’t know whether to understand as the epiphany of a tiredness in which now to acquiesce in a delicate manner in order to pay homage to the matter and take some leave, or because reputed more suitable to reveal our humanity, the poetic word, sensitive. When my grandfather died, when my brother died, no one among my relatives thought of a vendetta. When my grandfather died my father was a boy, so it’s only of the experience of the death of my brother that I was witness. In both cases the event that followed was the break-up of the family rather than an odious revolt against the ones responsible for the drama. My paternal grandmother, always attentive that everything around my grandfather occur without hindrance or setback that might make him displeased or disillusioned, incapable of tenacity in living let the uncles of my father carry away among the goods those that would have served to defend the memory of her husband and the future of her two children. My mother and my father on the death of my brother didn’t have a way to be united in an embrace and the evening of the day after if he hadn’t had a friend come from Genoa in order to support him while he wasn’t at all succeeding in remembering where my mother had been brought my father would have slept alone in that hotel for travelers just before the grave lapping of the river of winter. From what I’ve experienced the pain is going to pass on its own, death, at least one caused from violence, is an event so desperate that you can’t even have the courage to turn and share it. As if to do so would be a little less loyal. You renounce hoping at night that my brother interrupt his silence with a look, a booger from his nose, a wrinkling of his lips, and from when he was abandoned at the hospital where he had been brought from the country, my marvelous mother more suited for laughing was constrained to impersonate tragedy, not because she was a person to desire standing out from the others, but the eyes of everybody turned towards her posture in order to know the aftermath how it would be configured. We didn’t meet not even a little animal, at each curve of the road in descent I waited for someone extraordinary to appear to whom I would have reacted with a scream, in order to conclude once and for all this incredible business of existing. Instead only Ettore has recognized in time a toad on the shine of the asphalt. He slowed down, I only thought of the seclusion at the bottom of his mouth, from where the sound of his voice never arrives like a rebuke.
I had decided that I didn’t want any more children. As soon as I saw that he was beginning, you know what I mean, you too, I said, be careful! When your aunt was born, I said, you remember this, if I were to have another child it will be female, already it’s the second female that I have. There are those that have male and female, but when you start having females in a row, look at Filomena, that Contadina that came to clear out the crags, five females! She was like Michele, from the same places thereabouts, in Campania, when she was in the field she seemed a fright, then she came to table, she changed in every way, and she seemed a queen. The husband in an accident became blind in one eye. It hurt a lot and it still hurts, a daughter has two children and is separated, it seemed a marriage made in heaven, in other words they go on like that. I gave her a white and black kitten born from a stray cat. I had taken this cat like now, I pick up all the cats in the world, and she said, signora, would you give it to me this kitten? Gladly, I answered, it doesn’t seem right, otherwise I have to bring them to the animal protective society and have them killed, ask your mama, once I sent her! This kitten was weaned, she came to give grass to the rabbits and she said, signora the kitten is weaned. Ah, sì? She had five kittens, two are black. Oddio, leave one of them to me? We didn’t have that color at that time. Gladly, diamine! And when she was forty days old she brought me this cat. I loved all my animals, so intelligent, like that little beast holed up in the brush that as soon as she heard the voice of your aunt barked, and when she came close tugged with her snout at her other companion stretched out nearby, exhausted from fatigue, so much so that your aunt thought it was dead. She touched it and squeezed its muzzle. Then we said, let’s give them something to eat, they’re worn out, we took two liters of milk, put them in a bowl, in another a mash with the bread, so that it softens quickly, the leftovers from the pasta and brought them something to eat. They perked up right away. The dog didn’t bark anymore, he was quiet, good, next to the other one. Your aunt before going to bed went to see how they were, they were both sleeping, quietly. Then it began to rain, so I said, you go see if they’re holed up in the brush, with the rain that’s coming, poor beasts. They weren’t there anymore, they had recovered and had regained the path towards the house. There’s not a beast that I haven’t treated well. You can’t believe that little cat of Burrasca’s how affectionate it is, sleeps on the bed next to me, and before sleeping kisses, head butts, the others don’t do it, Morina’s a little ignoramus. Piccio died and then I called that little turtle Piccia, then Moro died and so I called her Morina.
I would like to be a body that generates a child, a land that contains the elements favoring the birth and the development of a principle of existence. Seated on the edges of sadness I want arguments to exist inside of me suitable to stifle, without the advent of a catastrophe interrupting the natural cycle of events. I would like a baby at whom to smile, that feels the heat between my arms. This mother that I’m not, this child that I don’t have make me feel guilty all of a sudden for not having privileged generating the fruits of sharing. I tell myself with impotence that I should make peace, in order to consent to the act of rendering a place for myself in which beginning is possible, and while heavy clouds bundle in the sky I lose myself wondering how it must be to move, how it must be to be a woman in space because her breath is transformed into that which contains an other, from what must we distract ourselves so that our limbs surrender, and I finish by concluding not to be habitable, as the world is not habitable for me. Places are not congenial to me, so since I’m not congenial to birth and in this unexpected detachment I feel lost, nothing will exist for me other than fragmentation, a precarious clinging on to rituals in order to feed hope to placate the secret feeling of the void, of inadequacy, that exists in place of that child never revealed, for whom I long in this moment as advised of the absence of a god.
My father one day went to Sarsina. Our family name is Sarsini, and for him it would have been nice to know from whom we descended. It was the dinner hour and my father, on a business trip, in the course of the return exited the obligatory path of the auto route and penetrated into where the country gave way to the mountains. The land regardless of its being isolated was still populated by young people. Work was guaranteed by an uninterrupted procession of psychopaths and madmen that brought themselves there in the hope of reacquiring calm with putting on the collar of a saint who’d lived there that had spent his time on his knees with that collar on, face bent towards the ground in order not to have to meet with his gaze the wickedness of men. Suddenly the land placed itself at the disposal of the visitor, they would have confected his progenitor in order to make him happy, so much they took to heart the reason for his pilgrimage, but neither in the municipality nor in the rectory did they obtain information suitable to satisfy him. Perhaps our name had been given to a little orphan who’d ended up in these places and didn’t know what he was called. In the main piazza a dark-haired girl with southern traits under the shade of the porticos served an ice cream to my father, who said to her, I can’t grasp it, you and the other girls that I’ve seen look so much like my daughter. Along the road back a few kilometers from there he brushed past a small town that had the name of Mercato Saraceno. Here’s where the Arab face of his daughter was incarnate, the bluish gums, the mastery of colors. When he told me I believed that I knew to which people I belonged and that I could do little against my origins. Centuries had passed, but you saw that they were not sufficient to fade from memory what the women of my stock had passed on suggesting at night in your ear, with a seduction more convincing than images after which my school companions had chased. I came from a Saracen market, from tents flapping against the wind, from feet barefoot, bells on ankles, from being absorbed without sensing the smells, lending an ear as the things to which I had belonged in other places of time were gone, in order to assimilate grace. To this I feel destined, to return back, and pig-headed I dig in my heels and slow down my step when it can resemble a person’s that’s walking ahead, in order not to betray the nostalgia of one being inside the life that so far I hadn’t caught up with but that was being conquered with reflection, a patient waiting, a consenting to metamorphosis, a releasing movements from will, that blind would have been able to make decisions on coming and going even before the eyes would have knowledge, would have made their barrier against cracked mirages on the horizon. Then I found out that in Italy more than one Mercato Saraceno had been founded, in different regions, and that in none of these had a Saracen ever stepped foot or galloped his horses.
The Rail is proudly running Miransù as a serial which began in the December/January issue and will continue through the fall.
Monica Sarsini was born in Florence, where she lives and teaches writing. She is also an artist who has shown her work in Italy and other countries. Libro Luminoso (Exit Edizioni, 1982) was followed by Crepacuore, Crepapelle and others. A collection of her work was published in English under the title of Eruptions (Italica Press, 1999). In Alice nel paese delle domandine (Le Lettere, 2011), Sarsini collects stories written by women from the creative writing class that she taught at Sollicciano prison, outside Florence; a second volume Alice, la guardia e l’asino bianco was just published in Italy.Maryann De Julio
MARYANN DE JULIO is a Professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Language Studies at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.