Puglia

by Michael Coppola

The little storm arrives soon and ribbons of light will follow.

La tempestina arriva subito.

Da Vinci said the best lighting is before and after the rain, and Newton said, with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It’s strange to see umbrellas close when a little drop of rain appears at the beach, because even when you swim in the sun, you get wet.

I stay on a hill of rocks for the bella vista and the storm air is fresh.

I wake crying.

My sister estimates the lump to be a tangerine, but my cousin felt it and qualifies it a clementine.

Multiple masses and irregular lymph nodes.

I think of a television interview in Marlon Brando’s garden, where Connie Chung asks Marlon Brando how he has spent the last nine years of his retirement, and Marlon says he watches ants. I watch them every day for hours and hours, he says, going up and down my sink picking up crumbs, they come inside, you know, in the cold weather.

The ants here in Puglia are numerous and aggressive.

I watch their intense autostrada move around the entire perimeter of the villa.

One discovers a moth carcass and communicates with another, and soon a new traffic lane emerges.

They carry the carcass while they simultaneously rip the body apart and bring pieces home until there is nothing left of it on the moving highway to dismember.

Why not cut off the body parts at the primary location and carry them away one by one instead of loading the whole on their backs?

La tempestina arriva subito. Sempre.

Those who remain on the beach watch me stretch on the rocks, while some climb the hill, and others take photos of the sky.

I walk to the edge of the cliff closer to the storm.

I wake crying.

In my waking life, my father accompanies me to Rome to see the new Papa Francesco.

My father buys a gold medallion of Pope John Paul II, he kisses it, and makes the sign of the cross.

At the beach, there are four comedic old men and one has a telephone with a ring tone that chimes a cacophony of church bells.

When the phone rings, I exclaim, Signore, forse Gesù sta chiamando, which means, Sir, perhaps Jesus is calling.

Everyone laughs.

The last time I saw my grandmother she was at my aunt’s birthday party with her nurse, against doctor’s advice.

She thought I was my father, and she thought my father was her brother.

At the party, she yells at the hired comedian to shut up and sing and when the comedian begins to make fun of her, nobody makes him stop.

When I received the news of my grandmother’s death, I did not return to New York for the funeral. Instead I hailed a cab in Barcelona and went to a sauna near Plaza de España.

Buenos Dias, Senor, Plaza de España, por favor . . .

Gracias.

Someone once said of me: If words could cry and perhaps I shouldn’t have taken it as a compliment.

Like in a movie, the man on the beach that everyone wants but cannot have moves towards me between the waves, he looks in my eyes, smiles, looks away, looks again, tension mounts, and soon a connection is made.

Later, in conversation, he asks what I’ve been writing on the beach and I tell him it’s about a man in New York who has never left his apartment, but always imagines to be in a different place.

And someone always dies, I say.

I think of the moth carcass and of Virginia Woolf who said, if it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death.

Someone always dies.

I wake crying.

It is said that although his plays are set in Italy, Shakespeare had never been to Milan, Venice, Padua, or Verona.

I tell everyone in Italy that every night in New York I watch RAI International’s Italian news and wait for a miracle of understanding, but the miracle never comes.

In Italy, although I have a limited vocabulary, in my own way, I make myself understood.

In a dream, there is a tall cake with many layers of white sponge and mocha mousse and I tell a poet friend in the dream that I know for sure my mother bought the cake, but I also know for sure that my mother is dead.

I wake to knocks at my window by other tenants at the villa.

Seven years ago, still traumatized by my mother’s recent death, my sister refused to return to the doctor after a suspicious finding on an exam. The doctor sent many registered letters to the house urging her to return, but each time she told the mailman she didn’t live at this place anymore.

I think of Barack Obama who in his inaugural address quoted St. Paul the Apostle who said, there comes a time to set aside childish things.

When I was a child, my mother came outside after spotting me from the window arguing with a neighbor about playing ball near his car, and seeing that I was upset, she asked me to tell her what had happened.

I choked up, my eyes watered, but, my mother, who wanted to save face in front of the neighbor, forcefully said, I’ve told you before, I do not like tears, and so, I stopped the crying before it actually began, and, I rarely cried again.

 

Michael Coppola teaches writing and literature at New York University and The City University of New York. He divides his time between New York and Italy.

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See also: Poetry