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The Italian Family at the Seaside

You like the view? There was a time
from Genoa to Sicily was all like this:
Mediterranean bush, the small clear bays.
Now we make a short descent by these steps.
Attention to them. For an August Sunday
is not too bad here. There are some little clouds
and many people do not like to climb.

Accordion music from a radio
drifts down the beach, piano, forte, with the wind.
Here is a strong sense of the group famiglia,
of portioning of space, and then a gap
and then another portioning.
We’ve come equipped, munitioned for the day,
and soon our parasol extends the fungoid rash of parasols
each marking out a parish round the bay.

Ramina is the first to change, bypassing
the adults’ antic wriggling with towels
and, finding an alcove in the rocks,
proclaims herself a mermaid. Papa suggests she
inflate the dinghy with her mermaid’s breath
rather than loud-hailing the whole beach.
She does as she is bid, and soon
the little siren launches on the sea.

Dark, shelving sharply, easy to swim in,
it makes me feel a stylist, strong enough
to pass this headland, check the other bays,
get out to where that great big yacht is parked,
half blocking our view to Capraia.
Stop at the yacht. Stop somewhat short of the yacht;
the naked woman diving off the stern,
climbing the ladder, diving in again
creates a widespread parish round herself.
Desire’s quick traveller goes tug, tug
under water from the parish boundary.
I didn’t ask to be disturbed (we both might say).
Look the other way. Look at the tower atop
the headland where the Grand Duke of Tuscany
kept watch for pirates, or look over to Elba…
Able I am not, not to see
her form so nude and active in the light.
Well, says the belly, try an easier appetite —
what about some lunch now? Make a line of straight strokes landward,
think only of movement, think of nothing.

Ramina, bouncing on the inshore waves,
says she wants lunch brought out to the vessel.
Unlikely, I suggest. But would she like a tow?
Bargain accepted, we beach together.

Since thirty years now I am coming here.
Before, the water was so beautiful and clear.
There was all kind of wreckage on the bottom
left over from the battles round this coast.
The Pisans and the Genoese fought
over there, towards Gorgona —
that was the end of Pisan naval power.
Later, when Ferdinand was tired of pirates
he brought them to engagement here,
in front of us, and won a victory
and forty thousand prisoners
who built Livorno for him. In this war past
a German submarine was blown up there,
where you were swimming by the yacht. You have enjoyed your swim?
You can swim here in October, in November,
it is warm enough. — Ramina, per piacere,
please be good. No, for one hour you cannot go
into the water. You will risk the cramp. —
Rosa and I, in 1950s,
have walked with tennis shoes around the rocks
back to Livorno. It is not so far.

A Sunday drowse
descends upon this popular republic of the sand.
Choked with the sand, with the gear of their trade,
lie dead submariners, and Moors,
Pisans whose power was on the wane,
near to us, beyond the edge;
in drowning mostly ignorant
how that act mattered to the play for lordship
which their masters made.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author