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Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

This film takes me back to the beginnings of this blog, when I didn’t have any Russell Crowe fan poetry to show for myself and was reduced to posting leftover poetry from other fandoms… Of course, eventually I decided to make this fansite officially more inclusive, sort of a smorgasbord of poetry for different fandoms with a special preference for Russell Crowe movies (and music).

My longest-running experiment in fan poetry was a series of 100 stanzas about the star-crossed lovers in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, written as letters from Pelagia (Penelope Cruz) to Mandras (Christian Bale), about the gradually ebbing love she felt for him when he left her for the Albanian front and never wrote back. (This happens before Captain Corelli, played with distinction by Nicholas Cage, arrives on the scene to complete the triangle.) You can see bits and pieces of it here.

This poem picks up where that one left off, with Captain Corelli’s arrival, leading the Italian invasion of the island of Ithaca, all of whose young men have either died fighting or straggled back to their homes in secret to live in hiding under the Axis occupation. Inspired by the 68th Psalm, best known for its breathtaking imagery (“The wings of the dove are inlaid with silver / and her pinions with precious gold”) but actually a rather sprawling Psalm that shifts in tone and perspective many times, much like the film.

Let the victors be named, throw open your gates,
and may all our detractors scatter!
As smoke clears off when there is no flame,
as candlesticks yield to a lighted wick,
may the ragtag rebels and holdouts relent.
And let our heroes parade and exult
before the town, and take pride in their work.
Sing an aria – learn a libretto with us!
If our entrance is not paved with roses,
Verdi will triumph where Wagner fell flat.

Opera, the music of exiles abroad,
sustains us like players in strange concert halls.
Don Giovanni will lead the way home,
where Rossini will greet us, free men, with a shout.
Those who appeal to Das Rheingold, be damned!
For us, sing Bellini, and sing of love,
here in the heat, in half-conquered resorts.
We are ready for earthquakes, explosions,
storms – pour out your wrath, we tell the Greek gods,
Ithaca, too, is subdued by guitars.

A generous sunset, the bells at dusk,
this half-deserted village stirs to life.
The tango is known here, the mandolin,
who knew our poor soldiers could make ladies flush?
The officers beat out the time, make quips –
these women could make our whole army a match!
With long looks they reprove us, yet they smile,
saying our captain would flee from a skirt.
Those who lie with the Germans are warned, shunned.
The caress of my mistress shimmers like starlight,
her breast, like a songbird’s, thrills to the sun.

When at last we broke through the defenders’ ranks,
a chill obscured the zenith of the sun.
This island’s bluffs, like mountains of the gods,
overlook our ships disdainfully and slouch.
What titans are shaking their chains when they stir,
upending great temples of stone with brute haste?
The island remains and makes quarries of graves.

Our army outnumbers this country’s by far,
we came ashore like the breakers of storms.
Though only a captain, I lead these men,
and music is all that defines us here.
Your guerrillas recaptured the island,
you claimed your own hostages, took revenge,
the women who strayed, you hanged like dogs –
all for a certain idea of life.
I pray for our brave quartermaster. Enough.

Music to us was salvation, not hope.
Opera, immortal, helped us accept death.
True, in this war men are butchered like sheep,
or like wolves in sheep’s clothing, skulking and sly.
Our army sought power and patrimony,
to salvage a myth of our destiny.
Why? So our boots could sink knee-deep in blood,
while the dogs roll in offal from misfired bombs?

The villagers saw our parades in style,
my countrymen marching in fresh from the front.
Our singers were followed by brass and drums
filing through throngs of young girls and old men.
Our choruses gave thanks to Rossini first,
then Verdi, the greatest of opera gods.
For a few bars Bellini held sway as well,
Italy’s nobility know their own –
Padua, Naple and Rome sent royal guards.

Conduct our hearts, our wayward dreams – the strength
our music gave us in the breach, the love
this island showed us when our cause was lost.
To you, my muse, I owe not words but gifts.
The war that beat upon your shores is lost,
artillery will scour here no more,
for Germany makes reparations now.
The dogs of war are scattered and subdued.
The next time officers come from abroad
to shelter here, they’ll sue on bended knee.

Ithaca, sing of the loves you have known,
strum the guitar or draw notes with the bow.
Sing of the castaway heroes of yore.
Sound not one bell, let the voice alone ring.
Honor the courage your women have shown,
for strangers, for fellowship, some for pride,
their love as magnanimous as blue skies.
Fierce in the sanctity of their own homes.
Music embraces the woman alone.
Perfect as morning and fine as sea foam.

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With you I felt my hands extend a kiss


Continued from Too Far Gone

31

The days twist together like braids of red
garlic that hang from the rafters, until
you have filled the house and the smell of bread
is imbued with the chambered bulbs’ thick, shrill
fragrance, strident as a woman’s voice, filled
with unspent hours collecting inside
the heart of our life together. What spills
onto the table top is the aside
to your companions, thinking of your bride.

32

I know you think of me, but be unkind,
so you will not be shattered when you see
what deprivation, heartache and resigned
devotions to your cause have done to me.
If I have bravery in me still, be
amazed when I smile and forget to run
to your arms, already relieved, pity
and grief for your suffering forgotten,
made proud by your survival, unbroken.

35

Your body is not so many parts to me,
biceps femoris, sternum, radius,
every outline in your flesh seems to be
drawn without lifting the pencil, anxious
to say something about your soul, precious
in the immediacy of feeling
and the completeness of every conscious
movement – your smile is felt in your curving
shoulder’s cusp, trapezius, tender, knowing.

38

The green sea is a moral element,
sailors know her dice are always loaded;
quick to judge and clear in ascertainment,
she lifts the great man up, even handed
and respectful of talent. You headed
into her world of paladin intrigues
fearlessly, every ordeal completed
in turn. She could not amaze you, fatigue
could not catch you, trailing you by a league.

39

Mandras, if a mast could be a tree and
flower, if its boughs could bend with the wind
and sing a little with the birds, your hand
would be heavy with fruit and pursed leaves twinned
on either side of the fruit’s stem, bright skinned
and long limbed, perfectly symmetrical.
You were meant to shadow purple finned
porpoise and roseate pandora and pull
the secrets from the sea, an immortal.

63

after C.P. Cavafy

A Greek in Alexandria admired
this in a youth, his sensuality.
More illicit than yours, nightly tired
in the arms of strangers, young and pretty
in a secretive, hot tavern city.
“Pleasure itself enjoys his blood,” he wrote.
We are a village couple, the pity
and admiration of poets remote
to us, our kisses modest, dances rote.

66

I broke a branch of acacia for home,
fragrant and turned many times by the sun
in its greener days. With it I can comb
the numbness of winter out of the dun
shadow cast over the porch. There are none
of the flowers I described to you, all
is brown from stem to pith. Today I shun
the world of fantasy. I don’t recall
my name in your voice or shudder, enthralled.

67

Where is the remainder of our love, where
has it overflowed? Where has it sparkled
like iron at work on a wheel, hot air
dancing with embers? What have I struggled
to remember all this time? What buckled
under the brick laying hours, what drowned
under the weight of silence? I stumbled
over the thought of you today, could sound
out none of your promises, senses bound.

71

after Paul Celan

I want you to stand in the shadow of
the war-torn air, and stand for no one and
nothing, unrecognized except by love,
there for me alone, my ring on your hand,
a more sacred and unerring oath’s band,
with all there is room for in that, even
without language. Let your unit disband,
return without my letters, believe in
no rumors about me, hope unshaken.

77

Mandras, a woman cannot write plainly
or with perfect hope uninterrupted
by the thought of death, or be patiently
silent about premonitions. I said
I would write, not that I could send unread
letters to the front forever, pouring
my little courage out line by line, head
dizzied by the unknown, always feeling
your silence on me, accumulating.

78

With you I always felt my hands were meant
for something sacred, not just the practice
of a woman’s work, or for a patient.
With you I felt my hands extend a kiss,
and if I brought a woman’s art to this
it was the intuition of my soul
and not what I had learned. Each day I miss
their honesty, forever fading, whole
only while we touched, the grace you stole.

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Filed under Acting, Dream Ensemble, Poetry