other hemispheres

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

The cicalecchina

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.

Stefano crouched on the sharp volcanic rocks

Stefano crouched on the sharp volcanic rocks. Below him in the shade-dark water a sea urchin tipped back and forth in the rising swell, precisely as it had a million years before. Stefano looked at the sole of his foot. The broken spines were thin and black below the reddened skin.

He looked out. The wind from the north whipped the sea into low white-flecked waves closely lined together, like hard-packed sand at low tide. The inflatable mattress was moving fast.

His diving knife was strapped to his calf as always. He thought of things that should never happen and dived into the water. The first bodylength down was summer warm; when he hit the cold from the underwater springs he arched his back and arrowed through the bubbles to the surface. The mattress was further out and further down the channel, still red he knew but black against the heat-white horizon.

The sun worshippers on the rocks around him did not see his dive raise a trail of spray. Only the girl rolling a herbal cigarette saw the knife. She reached for her phone.

The wavelets smacked his face as he swam overarm towards the mattress and the shape lying motionless on it. The water whipping off the crests of the waves felt like sand in a desert storm. He realised his habit was to turn his head to the left to breathe. Now into the wind. He had left his goggles on the rocks. But he never swam without his knife.

The mattress was closer now, drifting fast. The form on it had not stirred. He turned on his back to rest a little. His knife was still there. He touched its handle, cold in the cold water. One last effort.

He breathed in deeply and ploughed on, shoulders stretching. The only cloud in the sky passed across the sun and the sudden shade woke him from his effort. Arms and lungs burning he arrived at the mattress as the wind whipped the waves higher. He held on with one hand and felt himself being pulled through the water, out towards the open sea.

He thought.

With a single strike, he slashed the mattress with his knife. It folded, crumpled and disappeared below them. Now the wind and waves would not take them so easily.

The girl speaking on the phone shaded her eyes with her hand and saw the two black dots in the blue. One disappeared, then the other, then both reappeared. They were moving slowly towards the coast but faster along it. She lost view of them around a high outcrop and closed the phone call. ‘Too late,’ she whispered. ‘Too late.’