The wind has turned and is growing wings. Beach umbrellas ripple shade. On the deeper blue toward the horizon the first white horses appear. But still the tourists float their children out to sea on inflatable mattresses and blow-up fruit.
Summer sea whirled white
Barracuda hunting tuna
Fingers cover eyes
Bent knee at sunset
Hot tears as you slowly walk
Farewell, love, goodbye
Early snow this year
My head against your shoulder
Our last breath a sigh
Run. Coffee. Shower.
Coffee. Sea. Coffee. Shower.
Breakfast. Coffee. Sleep.
To the cliff divers, scars on ankles and legs are badges of honour. The razor-sharp rocks take their toll, a thread of blood through clear water sniffed up by the eels and sea spirits.
Yesterday Marco wavered in his concentration. When he pulls himself back up to the ledge, a vein or a muscle in his neck twitches. Blood flows from his shoulder. Leon 2012. Only part of his oldest tattoo can be seen but his brother is never forgotten. His memory is in Marco’s hot, scarred heart, his name inked into his skin.
She watched the stranger approach. He strode across the beach, his shadow long in the evening sun. On the horizon, waves grew.
in my head in my heart in my hands
my words are heat
on the page on the screen
they fade to cool
take them in, breathe them in
the heat of the sun
of my head of my heart of my hands
will come to you
will heat you through
I cannot bring to mind my dream from yesterday
though I know that it must run its course
before I begin anew.
I close my eyes in the mid-afternoon shade.
Every morning of every summer they meet. Same beach, same time. “So, we’re all here, are we? Nobody’s died in the night?” And with that Luigi and the others smile and stand thigh-deep in the water and frown at clumsy splashing swimmers. Sometimes the women begin to sing.
M fell onto the bed and fell asleep. As he fell, his last thoughts were of the story he had been told. The story of the cicalecchina.
It was summer and the wind was from the south. From the desert it picked up dust and from the sea moisture. When it arrived on the peninsula it dropped its dust on everything clean and on your lips and in your throat. The water it held became sea fog, low clouds, mist in the narrow streets, and rolled down to the lowest olive groves where the fates danced. Don’t go into the olives alone when the wind is from the south and the people are asleep or you may not return as you were.
But this was not the story M was thinking of and which now filled his dreams. That was the story of the cicalecchina.
At five in the morning the thermometer was wedged into the red paint as it was until past one o’clock at night. And for most of those hours the cicadas, called cicale here, squeaked and whirred and ticked, a deafening squeaking and whirring and ticking from every part of the countryside. How can people sleep in the afternoon with such a noise, wondered M the first time he visited. And then he lay down and was asleep. When he woke he had no idea where he was, nor where he had been nor for how long. His head and his blood were thick and his tongue filled his mouth.
There was the story of how the peninsula heat hit you if you were new to it the first time or newly new to it again. It struck you as you walked near your bed or a chair or a flat piece of ground not near a snake hole or an ant nest or a haunted olive tree. It struck you like a club of oak or a sniper’s bullet from a previous war and you fell without a sound or thought, slaughtered flesh without a bone to hold your body together. And the word for sniper was cecchino.
But then (another story told) it was the song of the cicala which brought the sleep. Sleep sounds so peaceful, thought M, but the violence of the coming of the oblivion should never be forgotten, though it almost always was. The song of the cicala that deafened you from every degree spun a web of sleep around you until your eyes had no choice and again you fell, unconscious.
But what to call the creature that sang this song, that sawed its legs, that called the heat until the heat brought sleep? Of course, the singer of the song that brings the bullet, that closes down the senses, the sniper cicala, the cicala cecchina, the cicalecchina. And so that became the name. But though people had told him to run from the bullet until there was safety for sleep, as his eyes were closing M gave himself willingly to the story and to the dreams that would come.
The people stood and watched the tramontana take the world past them, clouds, palm leaves, things from gardens that would not be missed and those that most definitely would.
It was so strong it tore a small girl’s midday shadow clean away from her feet. Black against the whiteness, it went tumbling and turning down the dusty lane until it was lost in the shade of the oak trees. The girl stared wide-eyed at where her shadow had been and turned her face up towards her mother, who patted her head and ruffled her hair and hid her own tears.
“A day it’s born, a day it lives, a day it dies,” someone muttered, “but this is its fourth day and now it’s taking shadows.” There was silence except for the sound of the wind.