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.