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  Jennifer Compton

For the Talking Statues


Freedom of speech was not encouraged in Papal Rome, so an outspoken cobbler called Pasquino wrote his satirical comments and attached them to a rough chunk of marble near his shop. The statue, all that remained of a Hellenistic group,   had been used as a stepping stone in a muddy medieval street until 1501. Other statues in Rome  started to talk, and to conduct dialogues with Pasquino, as  the statue came to be called - Marforio in Via del Campidoglio and the Babuino

in Via del Babuino.  

Taken from ROME An Eyewitness Travel Guide.



Roma, you are cruel to your people.

But you have suffered us television.

Those of us with roofs and aerials

are grateful.  


The senzatetto, those without roofs,

the homeless, do without.



The Museo D'Arte Contemporanea Roma

used to be a slaughterhouse. An abbatoirs.

A freezing works. To use my home word

the meat was frozen to send to England

by the freezing workers.


And the Colosseo was an abbatoirs,

a slaughterhouse.



This is a country that loves beauty.

The people make beauty out of poverty.

They make beauty out of poverty and out of

excess and luxury and Show Of Power.

And caprice, and itch, and ... something else.

Witness Cinque Terre and the Canale Grande.

San Marco like a grandmother's quilt.

But it works. It is beautiful. Don't say to me

They had to build on a cliff above the sea

so thus, the houses tumble down like ... like ...

Or Their territory was a malarial swamp

to which they had been driven by stronger,

crueler tribes so, lo, palazzi!

And  They loved God so longed to give God ...

In San Marco I fall silent. And weep.

I have seen places built out of exigency

and they look like shite.

I have seen places built to impress

and they are a waste of cash.

I say again These are tribes who love beauty.

The tribes who live in this country love beauty.

And make beauty. Out of anything. And everything.



He is a Stop Press photo on the front page

of the Herald Tribune, smiling, as the Polizia,

in bulletproof vests and black balaclavas,

hustle him away from forty years of living

off the map and under the radar.

He was run to earth near Corleone.

His wife sent him a parcel of clean laundry,

all a wife should be, and some chap shouted

  Follow those clean shirts!


I remember approaching Corleone in 2002.

Taking Corleone as my Destination

I tried Destinations In And Around.

I had used this feature before and some

flyspeck on the map, say Ekatahuna

or Koo Wee Rup, had something!

A B&B, a nine hole golf course,

a badly scanned pic on a tip by a member

who has not signed on again since 1993.

A restaurant, a tour guide, a blog.

Baghdad has bloggers. To much effect. 

But Corleone was completely off the map

and under the radar. I really wanted to go

to Corleone. But I was way too scared.

(Ekatahuna has wonderful meat pies

and Koo Wee Rup, asparagus.)



My Tabacchi man has a temper.

I saw that when I asked for

Un francobollo per Australia

and got that. Just that. One stamp.

In spite of the fact you need at least

two sixty cent stamps. At least.

When I got antsy about my letters

gone astray he got cranky.


I had stood on the step of 259 Viale di Trastavere

as jetlagged as an Australian who has flown away

waiting for the portiere to show, subito, soon.

And saw a shuffling, downward looking woman

full of woe, carrying newspapers from a van,

thought I will know these people soon. Subito.


She is the  wife of my Tabbacchi man.

Silent and downward looking when I ask for

Marlborough rosso and un biglietto, per favore.

One day I saw that she had a black eye,

a real shiner. A proper biffo.

She looked down even more, if that is possible,

and he appeared behind her shoulder

with that bright and ingenuous innocent look.

She had said something really stupid. 

Like - What do you want for dinner tonight?



The bells are ringing in the middle of the night.

'On the third day He rose from the dead.'

The bells are calling us to Midnight Mass.

Death Cab For Cutie sings Crooked Teeth

on the bad music channel. And oddly, there

are no ambulances racing up the tram tracks

towards Ospedale Nuovo Regina Margherita.

Re the bells at quarter to, it seems it takes us

15 minutes to walk to our local. Or it used to.

The bells are going demented. 2 minutes to 12.

Hurry along, folks. Stupid Girls by Pink on TV.

1 minute to midnight and the ambulances

and the Vigili del Fuoco join in. Sirens! Bells! 

Enough is as good as a feast.

Christ has risen. Time for a bit of peace.



I've gone for what they call the full immersion

into the language.

And I'm drowning.



I'm losing

my English.


If I find someone

who can talk English

I talk Rubbish.



Sub titles!

That is what will give you

the taste, the tasty taste,

the salt and sugar, the lilt and swing

of the other. I know you can read.

It is plain ridiculous to see Italian

issuing out of Puff Daddy's mouth.



I am learning the weather in Roma.

In The city one intuits weather

by the sheets on the washing line on an upper floor

no longer flying in the wind.


New weather coming in.

The oppressive clouds

will announce their intentions

soon subito.



And my seasons have been watching my internet         


fail. From high tide and hope and a proprietess

          who cared enough

to fight with the gentili clienti about the floods of        

          Romanian porn,

exactly how much doona can be stuffed into a  

          washing machine,

to a new scheme for American Students in Roma.

          As if we don't

have enough of them already! During the reduced   

          hours she plans

riches, doesn't look up as the clientele migrate

          from pc to pc

stabbing and jabbing and shouting - Dio!  All the

          ills computers

are heir to. Screen freeze. Slooooooownesssssss.    

          Drop out.

The flocks of customers peck and jabber, whirl -       

          rise and fly away.



What are the chances! That I am in Rome, that

          my sister is in Rome,

that Italia plays Francia in the World Cup Final.

          We are standing

in Circo Massimo with the right flag, but I find I

          am not quite ready

to cheer for Italia. I wave the flag but it is not in

          my heart to be glad.

My sister notices a complete lack of eskies

          stuffed with tinnies.

I notice I am standing on a primeval ground,

          a place of contest,

of blood, of the blood of the few. It is so apt

          I pick a team.

When Zidane gives Materazzi a French kiss

          I shout - Espulso!


And the dogs bring their people down from the  

          apartments and laugh

to see the pretty girls dancing out of the sunroofs

          of the little cars

and the trumpets sound and the flags flourish and

          the motorini fly.

Italia triumphs. The shirtless raggazi cling to the     

          reckless traffic.

The pronto soccorso will be busy tonight, we are

          all bulletproof.

Siamo campioni del mondo! Nessum dorma!

          No one sleeps!



The woman and her son seem to be life sized.

The building seems designed to overpower.

To crush.


Her son on her lap seems to be dead.

I suppose that is the point. He has to

have died.


A forensic scientist would probably know

how many hours have elapsed, in that climate,

in that year,


before the body would be in that condition,

for the hinder leg to lift off her lap.

After the Cross.



But you don't understand - she said.

Rome can absorb anything.

These gods. Those gods. This god.

And what about no god? - I asked.

Oh yes - she said. Rome can take that

and turn it to nothing. And now - she said

I have reached the end of my language.

Oh yes - I said. I know what that feels like.

You stand on the edge of the abyss and can't fall.



I am sitting at home in Wingello

listening to the same pop hits

on the radio that I heard in Rome.

O bird of time! 


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