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220 Italian Lucio Piccolo (1901–69) Veneris Venefica Agrestis She springs from the ground-clinging thicket, her face —gay now, now surly—bound in a black kerchief, a shrivelled chestnut it seems: no fine fleece the hair that falls loose, but a lock of curling goat-hair; when she goes by (is she standing or bending?) her gnarled and dark foot is a root that suddenly juts from the earth and walks. Be watchful she does not offer you her cup of bark, its water root-flavoured that tastes of the viscid leaf, either mulberry or sorb-apple, woodland fruit that flatters with lies the lips but the tongue ties. She governs it seems the force of rounding moons that swells out the rinds of trees and alternates the invincible ferments, flow of the sap and of the seas . . . Pronubial, she, like the birds that bring seeds from afar: arcane the breeds that come of her grafting. And the mud walls of the unstable cottage where the nettle grows with gigantic stalk, are her realms of shadows: she fires the kindlings in the furnaces of fable. And round the door, from neighbouring orchard ground the fumes that rise are the fine, unwinding muslins of her sibyline vespers. She appears in the guise of the centipede among the darknesses by water-wheels that turn no more in the maidenhair fern. Lucio Piccolo 221  She is the mask that beckons and disappears, when the light of the halfspent wicks makes voracious the shadows in the room where they are milling by night, working at the presses, and odours of crushed olives are in the air, kindled vapours of grapejuice; and lanterns come swayed to the steps of hobnailed boots. The gestures of those who labour in the fields, are accomplices in the plots she weaves: the stoop of those who gather up dry leaves and acorns . . . and the shoeless tread and measured bearing under burdened head, when you cannot see the brow or the olives of the eyes but only the lively mouth . . . the dress swathes tight the flanks, the breasts and has comeliness— passing the bough she leaves behind an odour of parching . . . or the gesture that raises the crock renewed at the basin of the spring. She bends, drawing a circle: her sign sends forth the primordial torrent out of the fearful earth; (and the foot that presses the irrigated furrow and the hand that lifts the spade—power of a different desire summons them now) she draws strength from the breaths of the enclosures, the diffused cries, the damp and burning straw of the litters, the blackened branches of the vine, and the shadow that gives back the smell of harnesses of rope and sack, soaked baskets, where who stands 222 Italian on the threshold can descry the stilled millstone, hoes long used to the grip of rural hands: the rustic shade ferments with ancestral longings. Rockroses, thistles, pulicaria, calaminths—scents that seem fresh and aromatic, are (should your wariness pall) the lures of a spiral that winds-in all, (night bites into silver free of all alloy of sidereal ray) she will besmirch with dust even the curve of the gentle hill. Now, she’s in day, one hand against an oak, the other hangs loose—filthy and coaxing, her dress black as a flue-brush . . . and the sudden rush of wind over the headland, sets at large, lets flow in a flood a divine tangle of leaves and flourishing bough. The heat, too, promises, discloses freshness, vigour of the breath that lets free peach and the bitter-sweet odour of the flowering almond tree; under coarse leaf are fleshy and violent mouths, wild offshoots, between the ferns’ long fans obscure hints of mushroom growths, uncertain glances of water glint through the clovers, and a sense of bare original clay is there near where the poplar wakes unslakeable thirst with its rustling mirages of streams and makes itself a mirror of each breeze, where, in the hill’s shade, steep sloping, the valley grows narrow and closes Lucio Piccolo 223  in the mouth of a spring among delicate mosses. If, for a moment, cloud comes to rest over the hill-crest or the valley threshold, in the living shade the shaft of that plough now shows which shakes which unflowers unleafs the bush and the forest rose. The Night Sometimes the night turns gentle; if it can raise from the obscure ring of mountains a breath of freshness...


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