to my grandmother Isabella
A sound is heard in the air, it parts from the slopes of the mountains and it clots in this basin in which the clarity of the sun tenuously disengages the opacity of a veil that covers it and seems generated from the sterile womb of the web that the dry branches make on the faces of the hills. Under, in the dark of the earth, between stones twisted, the roots will answer the silence that induces in me the elegance of this wait devoid of anxious questions that persist in existing, without a trace of surrender. From a goldfinch transpires a light throb, it clears away the pale of the sky and suddenly it penetrates into the mystery. They will be birds that without noticing are busy surviving, marbled udders of cows after the corn bunting has sucked them in the barn drawn from the heat, or the nocturnal cry repetitive, bewitching of the wigeon crushed on the ground, which when it flies is heard, tu, tu, because it beats its wings first over and then under like a child bouncing a ball against the wall, a horned owl in the ivy, voiceless shield, or will be born from the plants the crackling that warns of the presence of a hunter the drowsy perching of the wing of a buzzard on the bosom of an invisible current. I see him from my warm lair as if swimming, while opening his arms wide among the bindweed that drip, his rifle dangling on his back.
After the quarta ginnasio I could take the pedagogy exam and become a teacher, instead I started to work right away, I did counted cross stitches, in tablecloths, I became really good, not to boast, but I’m not stupid. It was rather bulky fabric, we did a square stitch and from there the Peahole Hemstitch, as edges. Then two stitches, three stitches, they gave us a design, it was copied to make tablecloths, napkins, hand towels, sheets. I became so good that they gave me only the samples to do in order to show them to the women who worked on them. I worked at home, for a couple of years, but I got engaged almost right away, then for a while I stopped. I had to go far away and get the work, from a signora, in a tiny street. I made my trousseau by myself, from the women workers in Badia I had learned to embroider on tulle. When my daughters were born I took it up again, at that time we had a girl who did the heavy housework for me, after came Annettona, she’s already dead, poor woman, her too. Her size was such, so that to clean the outtake, me, I went, I didn’t want her to climb on the ladder, she was enormous. Just not to work outside the home I would have done who knows what, then instead the trouble with my father happened, he had lost his mind, they said, he comes back, you’ll see, it’s a simple thing, then with this story of coming back in order to give him time I went to hold the job in the administration of that factory for him. Who would have said that I would have stayed for the entire duration of the war, first the one in Africa and then the other. It’s not that it was bad there, I always made myself respected, I wasn’t one of those, yes signor padrone, I always responded in kind.
I don’t go to church, but I think like my mama, to pray you pray well in your room, without anybody, my mama had her little altar, a small table with her dead on top, her saints, she was devoted to Saint Rita, to Saint Anthony, she had two or three saints that worked really well for her, like that saint for engagements that had made Aunt Cora get engaged, what was he called poor man? I don’t remember. Mama said, I prayed so much, finally she found a husband! Aunt Cora was ugly, I was blond, curly-haired, she was tiny, just skin and bones, the last decent dress I had it made for her, I spent so much money in order to make dresses for you, I had them made for me too, now they’re big on me, but I have a black suit with a long jacket on top with a collar of white fur, just about heavenly, very beautiful. I have that very simple little outfit, skirt and jacket with the brooch with the acorns on top, I put it on at the seaside one September evening when it was a little cool, and a signore, a little fat, from the marina, stopped your grandfather, greeted him and then said to him, I saw your wife, marvelous, with a very elegant outfit! I had that dress there.
Uncle Dante was a friend of my poor papa’s, they knew each other from hunting, in the marsh, you know the story of the guard of the marsh? The war came and they recalled him right away. No sooner said than done this man died. All those kids that he’d harassed in order to prevent them from poaching said, he thought he was dealing with the boys from the marsh, as soon as they got him drunk for you, they dried him right out for you! There they killed birds of every species, we came with the dinner, we brought Aunt Cora, Uncle Dante went before dawn and then we met up again in order to eat together, family style, there was the trattoria, the marsh is where was Pinocchio, a sort of bog with muddy ground, evidently it’s an environment that birds like and they filled up the game bags, not Uncle Dante, for me he was a poor shot. My father was very sociable, he’d invited him to the country, somewhere around that trattoria where they made fried frogs, in a house taken to rent by some signori that were in the villa, and they rented the guardhouse, so it was guarded. When I was little my parents took it for the whole year, we had a contadina in service, she carried me piggyback, there was a hill like this, and she was off, my mama told me that she said to her, don’t go to all this trouble, she walks by herself! But she, no no, I do the horsey! She loved me, it was like home. There were some tremendous thunderstorms, with this lightning and thunder my mama was afraid, one time she shut us up in a closet. We went there too because the doctor had said that my brother needed to be in the country, he was delicate, take him away from the city, and he went to walk, in the neighborhood, it was full of contadini, in every house there was one, they said to him, come signor Luigi, they all gave us for the signorino, the padrone, the padrona, we weren’t padroni, only renters, but well, so they said, come signor Luigi, come. And him, I come, I go inside, if you don’t give me anything to eat. He was afraid, if they gave him a piece of bread with filling, he would’ve taken it to be polite, but he didn’t feel like eating. Your brother instead when he came here he went to the Masini’s and they always gave him bread with something, he took it, he ate it gladly and he had us make it for him, he said, grandmother, make the soprassata like the Masinis do. Then there was the bird hunting, damn the one who invented it, he went hunting with Lorenzo. I wasn’t there when he died, I was closing the accounts in the shop, it was 24 December, I remember only the man that came to inform us. Then he stayed to work there, he was a lathe turner, he was very close to us when Lapo died. All the workers, even that boy that had resigned in order to go and work at Enel. He came to replace a worker that had gone away and the day after he was already dead, the ones that polished the faucets used a strong acid, a jug of that acid in his new place of work spilled on him, and him in order not to let the padrone know mopped this acid, the smell had intoxicated him and the day after he died. The widow, since she couldn’t have the pension because he hadn’t worked enough, said that from us he’d come, for example, the first of January, while instead he’d come the sixth of June. So we said, there’s the workers to vouch for when he came. No one remembered anything, only this boy said, when we came in the shop he wasn’t there. He was a contentious type, one time he threw a bunch of kitchen faucets at the head of another, they fought I don’t know why, he made a big tear, they brought him to the hospital and they wanted to give him a tetanus shot. I said, but he hurt himself the other day, for a trifle, they gave him a shot, if you give him another you make him die. Then the workers said, brava signora, you’re behind us. They liked me. With that boy we had remained friendly even if he no longer worked for us. When your brother died he said to me, I like you so much signora, the day after tomorrow I’m getting married, I gave him the valet stand as a gift, if my wife makes me a boy I give him the name Lapo, in order to remember you always. So, my father invited Uncle Dante, and there was Aunt Cora and Aunt Angiolina, who wasn’t a beauty but she was a good-looking woman, and then always very elegant. Uncle Dante was enamored, but she was a crazy woman. There were two girls getting on in years, they both hoped that he’d look out for them, he was already a widower, a baby dead with meningitis, he was a serious person, he had the store, but Aunt Angiolina was a featherbrained type, used to being free, she went dancing, for that matter they all went dancing, the Perroud sisters, three flakes of snow, they reported at the opening dances, they were all dressed in white, Aunt Cora, Aunt Emma, a very beautiful woman, Piero’s mama, my first love, a little daft, she had not much brains, and Aunt Virginia, the one that young married a painter.
My sister asked me to accompany her to a clearing inside the cypress grove where she remembered that twenty years ago flowered tufts of lavender. Along the road that skirted the woods there was a locked car, black, abandoned. I brought my sister the hoe and from my apprehension I said to her that climbing up those unstable rocks decorated sporadically with lichen and moss rose would have been useless, but she insisted. The oldest little niece following her mama said, auntie is afraid of everything, so the littler one, stayed with her hand in mine, she went after her and with inadequate shoes they vanished creaking in a wake of dry leaves. The air tasted of that emptiness in snails dedicated to the dust against which no reverberation of sunlight is refracted, and which hadn’t released a renewed splendor when the voice of my sister from the top of the path called me to rejoin her. With delicateness she was hoeing in the clump of earth that covered the stony ground in order to uproot younger sprigs without devastating the roots. She filled my folded arms, from which escaped a decrepitude of clods of earth when we descended the path in order to go and plant the lavender in the entrance of the lane at whose sides branched off the small farm of grandfather. The nieces shouting rushed towards the house to fill with water the beach pails in order to water it right away once aligned under the strawberry tree. The song of the birds in the close of their beaks seemed a nest of circular sounds that aligning themselves in rows of tones takes refuge in itself, or a threshold in order to access a place identical to the one barely crossed not existing for that trace of beginning, which makes me proceed with expectation, from one inside of me or from one outside of me that is concentrated revealing what the attention is destined to conclude, while Michele from the center of the field crumbles with the spade white tambourines of stone. There is peace in staying seated on the stepladder, me and the littlest one, a modest peace, and in hoping that the trembling of life doesn’t take advantage of this absence of distraction from not being other than two without an audience picking a poppy. Then we went to bring the sacks of trash to the dumpster near the church. On the return I put her there in the wheelbarrow. She pulled her dress over her legs crossed in order not to dirty it, from the dark green of the cypresses it had started to rain, but barely.
The Rail is proudly running Miransù as a serial which began in the December 2013/January 2014 issue and will continue through the spring of 2015.
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.