Clare Hornsby



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Ferragosto

I

You’d have to be hard of heart
Or deaf to the sounding bells
From dawn to dusk
With the insistence of two thousand years
Or blind to the signs which proclaim
The feasts
Of tripe, of offal, of beefsteak
Cooked on black griddles big enough to roast a martyr
In humming shade of stunted trees
Municipal gardens’ late afternoon.

To the bells rung from rival camps:
The White, Observant, Shoeless
The Little Sisters of the Poor
Stragglers’ remnant of vast vanguard
That passed away a thousand years ago
Built the marble barns
Echoing now with variegated chirping
Of cell-phones against disembodied chant
From loudspeakers
(The no-monks can not-sing)
The hum of casual chat rising from
White-legged northern types whose ancestors
Smashed in Her face at every opportunity.

Now not knowing what is this day
When hot polyester-clad bishops
Fat fathers in suits and tie
Carry huge candles, ribboned wreaths
Light monstrous bonfires
Marking ‘M’ on the mountainside as night falls.

Boys with smooth bodies of pagan gods
Ride bareback around
The brick-sloped fan-shaped yellow sand campo
In fury to win her prize.

And in each house
As in each church
A still woman with stars on her head
Treads flat the snake.

*****

II

This day she surges with outstretched arms
To find him again, who heavy-dead had
Lain across her lap
Drawn up by the magnet of his will
Face shining, determined, open
Forever that perfect age
Robed in Venetian gold-and-green
Or Roman blue-and-red
The living rocket sent from earth
On the feast of August.

More than together Christmas, Easter
In summer intense with
Colour heat and blinding instant storm
While in each house
The mother, mamma, madonna
Makes the meal for post-mass ageing aunts and fussing children
The placid men sit, smoke, wait to eat.

This day
The Apotheosis of Mary
God-the-Mother
At last
Her day
Has come.