from Issue #8: Poetry by Frank Russo

Photo (CC) Marion Doss @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Marion Doss @ Flickr


The parachutists, 1943

The night before the Americans came the villagers evacuated to the cave.
Six men carried the statue of their patron on their shoulders—
the Marseillaise saint upon his horse, trampling a Turk underfoot.

As the sky hummed with C-47s, they touched the saint’s hands and face
and watched as balloons fell from the sky. Americans swarmed like ants,
dropping to earth, shedding their skins in the branches
of olive trees and on the jagged timpone.

Someone called them paracadutisti—and soon everyone used the word,
repeating it—paracadutisti
as if they’d known it all along.

Just as quickly as they came, the Americans left, heading north in pursuit of a retreating army.
Then came the race—
……………………………the villagers came down from the cave in search of the nets,
the fabric like none they had seen before.

‘It’s perfect for collecting olives,’ one woman said,
…………………………………imagining her net stretched taut between thick trunks.

‘With this, I’ll make a shirt for my husband,’ said another,
…………………………………testing it for tear resistance.

‘I’m using this one to fly,’ said a boy of fifteen,
…………………………………too young to be afraid or enlisted—
……………………………………………………..imagining he’d fly like an American.

From a crag above the cave,
the boy’s parachute caught the wind,
billowing out to form a mushroom.

It floated before opening
like a handkerchief,
folding in on itself
as it fell,

tumbling down to earth
to form a shroud
for broken bones and battered skin.




From Earth, stone, water

I: Gravel road, Pisticci to Craco

A boot-trodden path cuts through wheat fields
to the remnants of a farmhouse. A chimney
standing sentinel takes on the proportions of a belltower;
an archway cut into loose brickwork forms
a poor-man’s nave. What’s left of the kitchen hearth,
now a tip for broken bowls, coat hangers,
shards of glass. A clean slab of granite
might’ve once formed a kitchen bench,
propped up with bricks, a kind of altar.

Here the hills erode to barren dunes
where only tufts grow, roads wedged
on the backs of ravines: a pilgrim’s landscape
through which the Apostle Thomas might have travelled.
Here a well, ploughed deeper in a drought year,
has gone to clay, a silent protest
against the profane.

In the distance, Pisticci, perched above a drop,
its houses whitewashed and symmetrical;
the town’s water tower glints in the afternoon light,
its reservoir full, waiting for a slide to spill its barrel.


III: At Laurenzana

A man reclining on a low stone wall recounts the allied
landing at Salerno like it were a week ago;
how the mountains crawled with soldiers.
In these mountains a thousand years
is like yesterday and the memory of yesterday erased.
Pointing to the church on a spur, he tells me how
archaeologists who excavated the abbey floor
found a woman’s mummified corpse—
he stretches his arms out to indicate a crucifix.

At Santa Maria della Assunta a young priest
points at his watch, gesturing the abbey closed at midday.
No, he shakes his head, there was no woman found
in the shape of Jesus; found here were medallions,
a bronze plate with a Madonna and child,
the remains of rosary beads, a fragment of animal jaw,
Bourbon-era coins, buttons—many of them, of wood and bronze,
a pair of women’s leather shoes in perfect state of preservation,
the remains of a woollen blanket that swathed a newborn infant,
and a woman’s corpse, hands folded across her solar plexus.




At home with Peggy


In the former dining room Peggy stands
beside the reproduction dining table,
watching visitors admire the sideboard
topped with reliquary carvings from Gabon.
Dressed for guests, though now visitors
stay no more than minutes,
moving to the drawing room
where the Kandinsky and Mondrian hang.



Peggy rolls her eyes
as she overhears a woman
discuss the Magritte—
I’ve finally worked out
what’s wrong with this painting—
how can it be night time
when the sky is still light?



In the library Peggy sits
on the white lounge, watching
art school grads frame shots of the canal
through the iron-latticed windows—
tourists more drawn to the view
than to Cornell’s Fortune Telling Parrot.

A woman poses like Peggy
in the photograph that hangs in the corner:
legs crossed, arm stretched over the lounge’s back.
She pouts, and so does Peggy,
parroting her parrot.



On the terrace, Peggy sunbathes,
amusing herself with the reactions of guests
to Marini’s sculpture of The Angel of the City
eyes delighted by the figure of the rider,
his arms stretched out in jubilation,
until they see the metal penis
Peggy has screwed in.
She hears an American tell his girlfriend,
You could give him a hat
or put a bucket around his arm
and turn it into an entirely different artwork.
Peggy turns to tan her breasts.



Peggy in the garden
beside the spot where her ashes are buried.
Peggy watching tourists take a break
in the garden’s cool shade.
Peggy listening to visitors discuss
whether it’s time for a coffee
or the special exhibition;
I want to check out the gift shop;
Are the toilets here safe to use?



Peggy in Pegeen’s room. Peggy studying
the photo of Pegeen sitting on the Byzantine throne.
Peggy observing her daughter’s paintings,
how they teem with happiness: scenes of sun and Riviera.
Pegeen’s paintings, primitive and naïve.

Peggy studies the long-limbed women standing naked,
the canals of Venice brown like oil slicks.
Peggy focuses on the brightness of the colours
and tells herself how happy her daughter was.
Peggy focuses on the colours and reassures herself
how untimely and mysterious
the whole thing was.




FRANK RUSSO’s writing has appeared in Contrappasso 6, The Weekend Australian, Southerly, Transnational Literature, Cactus Heart and in anthologies in Australia and overseas. His poetry collection, In The Museum of Creation, will be published by Five Islands Press in 2015. His writing has been short-listed for the Vogel/The Australian Literary Prize and other awards.

New Double Issue launch on 10 April!

Contrappasso Double Issue, April 2015

Contrappasso Double Issue, April 2015


Roll camera…

Contrappasso starts its 4th year with a DOUBLE ISSUE.

Writers at the Movies, edited by Matthew Asprey Gear and guest Noel King, brings together many kinds of artists who have been captivated by film: its imagery, history, personalities and political edge. Across essays, fiction, poetry, interviews and photography, the contributors are James Franco, Emmanuel Mouret, Sarah Berry, Barry Gifford, Michael Atkinson, Luc Sante, R. Zamora Linmark, Richard Lowenstein, Anthony May, Michael Eaton, Jon Lewis, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Scott Simmon, Clive Sinclair and the late, great Richard Hugo.

Companion issue Contrappasso #8 takes the journal’s adventures in international writing further and wider, with its biggest selection of new fiction and poetry, from nine countries.

There’s an interview with Filipino authors F. H. Batacan and Andrea Pasion-Flores, plus stories by Pasion-Flores, US authors Rick DeMarinis and Kent Harrington and, in a Contrappasso first, a long-overdue translation of Argentine modernist author Roberto Arlt (with translator Lucas Lyndes)…

…plus the most poetry in any Contrappasso issue, with work by Nicaragua’s Blanca Castellón (translated by New Zealand’s Roger Hickin), Spain’s Alicia Aza (translated by J. Kates), China’s Lu Ye and Geng Xiang (translated by Ouyang Yu), New Zealand’s Kerrin P. Sharpe and Mary Macpherson, the UK’s Bill Adams and Richard Berengarten, the USA’s Floyd Salas and J. Kates, and Australia’s Elias Greig, Philip Hammial, Travis McKenna, Sascha Morrell, Tony Page, Sarah Rice, Frank Russo, Page Sinclair, Alex Skovron, Paolo Totaro, Lyn Vellins, Luke Whitington – and one of the last poems by the late, much-missed Morris Lurie.

This Contrappasso DOUBLE ISSUE presents the most writers so far, across the widest range of fields.

And… cut.

from Issue #6: Poetry by Frank Russo

Photo (CC) Contando Estrelas @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Contando Estrelas @ Flickr



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?




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.

Contrappasso, Issue #6 – launching in September 2014

Cover image "DSC02603" (CC) Vincent Lou @ Flickr, altered from original

Cover image “DSC02603” (CC) Vincent Lou @ Flickr, altered from original


New Issue. New Authors. Contrappasso 6 is launching soon! This issue explores still more possibilities in international writing, bringing together work from nine countries in four languages, by more than twenty authors who are appearing in the journal for the first time.

Their work leads from snowy streets in Montana to packed train stations in Tokyo, from Hong Kong horse races to Sicilian passion-plays, from the Coal River Valley to Manila shopping malls, and from an iron lung to The Raft of the Medusa.

This issue features interviews with Australian poet Judith Beveridge, veteran American crime writer Lawrence Block and Filipino novelist Jose Dalisay. It presents new fiction by Japanese novelist Mitsuyo Kakuta (translated by Aoi Matsushima), Chilean Álvaro Bisama (translated by Megan McDowell) and from the USA, Jon A. Jackson and R. Zamora Linmark. The poets are Elizabeth Smither, Iain Britton and Stephen Oliver (New Zealand), Flora Delalande (France), Penny Florence (UK), Ouyang Yu (China/Australia) and Richard James Allen, Stuart Barnes, Jamie Grant, Siobhan Hodge, Frank Russo and Les Wicks (Australia).

Watch this website to sample the work this all-new ensemble of writers. They travel far.

The Editors