THE HOUSEKEEPER'S INNOCENCE
Ma ficca li occhi a valle, ché s'approccia
la riviera del sangue in qual bolle
qual che per vïolenza in altrui noccia››.
Oh cieca cupidigia e ira folle,
che sì ci sproni ne la vita corta,
e ne l'etterna poi sì mal c'immolle!
Io vidi un'ampia fossa in arco torta,
Come quell ache tutto 'l piano abbraccia,
secondo ch'avea ditto la mia scorta;
e tra 'l piè de la ripa ed essa, in traccia
corrien centauri, armati di saette,
come solien nel mondo andare a caccia.[i]
Fire and smoke. The world is embraced by a crimson haze that chokes the trees, melts mountains, chars eternal rocks. Towers totter and bend; steeples kneel to the hollow moan of thunder; lightning strikes. Bells fall silent. Churches crumble. Abbeys sink into the steaming, dark, roaring abyss. The fuming muscles of the giant arm clench my neck; words of doom now boom between my ears; bitter, caustic insistent, the flames climb up my feet, my hands; they bite and whip and lash my legs and arms to memories of scorching embers. The church is alight. Fire and smoke. Smoke, fire, fire, smoke fire.
Those were the days when the Sun beat with wrath upon the dusty hills and mountain tops, dried up the thirsty rivers, burnt with a wink all leaves and grass. I had been brought up to respect the customs of my land. To keep my head down; to keep my mouth shut; to cover up and live my life in non-existence. 'A woman has to know her place' was written in the stones, was murmured by the rivers, was etched on every face. The cobbled road was showing me the orange canopies down deep inside the valley; the church was shining high with golden glory upon the hill-top; Mass was over.
'Et mulieres aliquae quae errant curatae ab spiritibus malignis et infirmitatibus Maria quae vocatur Magdalene de qua demonia septem exierant,'[ii] had revealed the Priest from the high pulpit; his words weighed down like corpses carrying boulders on their bleeding shoulders by the grave tone of his dark solemnity against the cinnabar glow of the Sicilian Sun obscured behind them. The did not touch my mind; they did not mean; they felt, they stuck, they grew within me like unwelcome child; heavier and heavier, they sunk down deep beneath the ashes of my soul.
So down I followed; amongst the barren stumps, the searing stones, the lymphless leaves I stepped with caution down to where the stream had lost the strength of winter, and lay in ponds and paddles ankle deep still spared by the almighty Sun. With every step I took the holy words retched up into my mouth and stamped themselves like fiery seals onto my tongue: mulieres erant ab spiritibus malignis; de Maria Demonia septem exierant.
'A girl like you should never be unchaperoned,' the slow, controlled and whining voice of a man in a dark cloak lay heavy upon my head.
'Ab spiritibus malignis,' came without my will from deep beneath my throat.
The man was standing proud upon a boulder dark with age, his arms akimbo a clear reproach to my diversion; his eyes were black with coal not yet extinguished. The Sun's own fingers rested on his shoulders in their glory.
'Ab spiritibus,' I whispered as I kissed his feet in fear; the mud had left the stench of slime and fish and rotting leaves on them.
I kept reciting all the doctrine far into the night, through the pitch darkness of my cell, the words kept flying onto me like arrows fast in battle cut the sturdy canvas of the sky and pour in hail of lightning onto skulls as soft as babies' still unborn. The day had come for me to drop my veil and take the honour of the wimple. My eyes were fixed onto the bars about to stave the world off my new life; the secret murmur of the rain was muttering words too deep for me to read, when Sister Mary softly knocked outside the door. Her silence strode like silver strings of Sappho's lyre with whispered breath inspire the waves to mount across the oceans, and rest their warm and moist and luscious lips upon the sands of beaches hidden from the world. Her eyes were wet with kisses from the Moon, like amber glowing gently holding years and tears of light within the hardened shell of glass. She touched my Bible with her hand; her fingers, slender, pale and pure, with rosy touches stroked the yellow leaves with care, then quietly stopped, and passed the holy script to me:
Vidit igitur mulier quod bonum esset lignum ad vescendum et pulchrum oculis aspectuque delectabile et tulit de fructu illius et comedit.[iii]
She sucked the Moon's rays from my lips like drops of joy so long forgotten; the inviting warmth of yielding, giving sacrifices made in forests when the Sun can't see, like waves of light and music slowly found their place in me, filled me, became me.
I see them all, the congregation's eyes are fixed on me; the Father beats his words with punches on the pulpit. They stare, they wonder, they know not. The man in the dark cloak falls like a shadow on their faces; his bitter breath pours poison deep into their ears; I see him now, as I saw then, his steely spear, a frozen iron chilling in my blood. I see vermillion flames, at sunset, flood the nave, march on the marble with incessant clang of war; when asked which name I wished to give to my new self, the words broke forth like flood invades the valley and washes off the stench of slime and fish and rotting leaves: 'Maria Demona appellabor nunc.'[iv]
Adriano Bulla, 2013
[i] Dante, La Commedia, Inferno, Canto XII, vv.46-57
[ii] God, Sacra BIblia Vulgata, Luke 8.2.
[iii] God, Sacra Biblia Vulgata, Genesis 3.6.
[iv] From now on, I will be called...