from Issue #6: Poetry by Frank Russo

Photo (CC) Contando Estrelas @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Contando Estrelas @ Flickr

 *

Calvario

They found one of the blond twins to play Jesus—
the ones whose parents had migrated to the Ruhr
to work as factory hands. The ones whose chestnut hair,
like Renaissance Jesuses, passes for blond in these parts.

He’d ridden his motorcycle from Essen, down autobahns
which morphed into the Autostrada Del Sole
before it trickled into the Great Highway of Communication.
Passing the hamlet of Mammola, he remembered hearing

how the crumbled stonework now housed some of those
who’d arrived on Pantelleria by boat. He rode until
the hillsides became familiar, russet carpeted forests
giving way to steep ravines, their streams rock-swollen.

Seeing him white-smocked, an old woman cried,
He’s like a real Jesus, his hair straight from a painting
of the Stations of the Cross. The band of twenty didn’t
need much practice—the play etched into their fabric.

A cluster of women move through the square,
coat sleeves brushing to the soft chanting of Our Fathers.
At the fore of the procession, hooded men
in sackcloth, eyes flickering through slits.

Behind them the ones playing slaves,
barefoot, planks of wood spanning their shoulders.
On the hill outside the village, the spot marked
for Golgotha: an ancient olive tree for Judas to hang.

As Judas climbs a metal ladder, takes the carefully
knotted noose, a man recounts how
the best Judas they had was the one
that time in Ragonà: so possessed,

the guilt of betrayal stamped on his face—
when he took the noose and kicked away the chair,
the way he struggled appeared so real—
how his legs kicked and bucked,

how his hands struggled to untie the noose
—how could the crowd not burst into applause?

.

 *

.

When they call a hill a timpa

What’s left of the language of youth when its speakers
have all but gone? The grey-haired woman on dialysis,
what does she care if her word for orange

comes from the Persian, naranĝ? Or if the tafareja
where she stores her wedding ring, comes from
the Arabic for jar? The old man who seeks solace

in communion wafers and lottery tickets, what does he care
if the word he uses to name the mouse he snared,
has its origins in French? If the suriciu he trapped that morning

derives from souris, or the slice of nduja he used as bait
comes from the French, andouille?
What do the old women care if when they bake their pitti

at Easter they speak a word borrowed
from Albanian, or when they call a hill a timpa,
instead of rupe or collina, they speak the last trace of Oscan?

Do they care when they say ajumari
when lighting a fire, it springs from the Occitan,
allumar? Or when they call someone’s head
a capizza, it stems from cabeza? And what do they care

if the word they use for persimmon is the same in Japanese?
Do they care if they use these words instead of the ones
that came with nationhood? Capo, topolino, salsiccia, giarra
foreign words, all the same. What interest do the words of dominion hold?

What do they care when they use the word viatu
to describe how someone went quickly in their sleep?
Would they care to know its origins in an arcane
form of French? Are they mindful how the word

lends more dignity than using presto, so redolent of magic tricks
where loved ones might vanish in mist and vapours?
And why would anyone care for the word tambuto

their word for coffin? Would it soothe them to know
its Arabic roots? Tambuto!—like the sound of earth falling on wood.
Tambuto!—like the taam-buu-ra-taam-buu-ra-ta of a tambourine.

The woman searching death notices for familiar faces,
what would she care if time relegated her words to archive drawers
and to German philologists to catalogue and study? What would she care

if the word she uses for handkerchief—muccuturi, muccutur
were the bastard brother of a Catalan mocador?

.

 ***

 ABOUT THE POET

Frank Russo’s poetry and fiction have previously been published in Southerly, The Weekend Australian, Transnational Literature, Blue Crow, ABC Radio and in anthologies in Australia, the United States and Canada. Two of his novel manuscripts have been short-listed and commended for the Vogel/The Australian Literary Prize and for other awards. The poem “Calvario” was highly commended in January 2014 for the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Competition (Ireland). Both poems published here will be included in Frank’s collection In the Museum of Creation (Five Islands Press, 2014/15). He holds a Masters in Writing from UTS and is completing a Doctorate in the English Department at the University of Sydney.

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from Issue #6: Poetry by Siobhan Hodge

Photo (CC) Tommy Wong @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Tommy Wong @ Flickr

 *

 Happy Valley Turnover

American alfalfa, fresh
off the jet, arrives
for a visiting
sprinter
in the barracks.

Soybean starches
ulcered bellies,
oats and lucerne
for horses ushered
to another day’s racing.

Withers judder
in humid clumps,
remembering
seasons in uneasy
halogen nights.

Eyes may turn
to Kowloon skyline
under lock
from stall to killing pen,
now harried up the ramp.

Seychelles broke fast,
Sicilian Storm no
breeder,
along the outside
we have another
Ferdinand.

Imported hay is
exchanged
for spent bodies
on the morning truck,
and the punters
park elsewhere.

.

*

.

Horse Latitudes

No red tide laps the shore
to mark your bloody passage.
Algal bloom snuffs oxygen,
your lungs filled
in unfamiliar seas.

Cast adrift, no water to fill
your salted flanks:
they pitched you over the side
like an empty barrel.

Spanish soil fell from your hooves
before Pacific
rose to claim
your abandoned hide.

Rolling in the deep,
hawkhead mauled
by foam. Sharks barter
for your sinews
beneath calm water.

No horizon will beckon
you home, body
sunken – skull to mount
the bedrock, mapping
a legacy of bones.

 

ABOUT THE POET

Siobhan Hodge was recently awarded a PhD at the University of Western Australia in the discipline of English, studying Sappho’s poetry and its translation. Born in the UK, she divides her time between Australia and Hong Kong, and is currently undertaking a writer’s retreat in Cambridge. She recently published a chapbook, Picking Up the Pieces, and has had poetry and criticism published in several places, including Cordite, Page Seventeen, Yellow Field, Peril, Verge, and Trove. Siobhan nurtures a longstanding interest in working with horses, drawing on both classical dressage and natural horsemanship methodologies, and is working on a related poetry collection.

Clive Sinclair classics now available as ebooks

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Here’s an enthusiastic recommendation: Hearts of Gold (1979) and Blood Libels (1985), two early classics by Contrappasso interviewee and fiction contributor Clive Sinclair, are now available in Kindle ebook format. We urge our Kindle-bearing readers to seize the moment.

And while you’re at it, why not download Sinclair’s most recent collection of stories, Death & Texas (2014)?

The books are also available in epub format at Waterstones: Hearts of Gold, Blood Libels, and Death & Texas.

And remember, you can read Matthew Asprey’s long interview with Sinclair at the Los Angeles Review of Books and also a further chat on the occasion of the publication of ‘Death & Texas’.