(© Words by Paul F. Cowlan)
The italicised lines are in Venetian dialect:
No so gnente! I have done nothing!
Ah! El xe inosente! He is innocent!
Ga perso ea mente! These people are crazy!
(acqua alta. Literally ‘high water.’ The famous Venetian floodwater.)
Soccombenolo pian pianin. Succumbing slowly.
Signori! O Signori! Ma cossa fè? Sirs! O Sirs! Why are you doing this?
My thanks to Michel Poletti and Sabine Madl for help with the original Italian phrases, and to Signora Gabriella Schillaci for transposing them, as far as reasonably possible, into Venetian.
Chi non ti vede non ti pretia.
(Shakespeare: ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’)
The city offers rarities on principle;
a patchwork dragon,
prides of studious chimæras,
horses thundering from the clerestory.
But how did he get here?
A wolf by the Fenice!
Staking this rio out,
where bottles bob on shaky sea legs,
shutters clap to
and candle flames confess.
Day or night,
unnoticed for the most part,
padding the bridges, landings,
palaces and endless galleries,
he keeps the dark in motion;
snuffing the station forecourt
for a pinch of Syracuse.
Lucy, of course, outpaces him;
her pickled eyes and worm-worn feet
long since scuffed off to Jerry’s bunkhouse,
where the trail goes cold.
Like all good saints she’s short on company;
hoarding herself, serenely masked,
flesh crisped against the prying carnival.
Small fry for such a connoisseur of innocence.
He yawns at knick-knack sellers,
catches a hermit napping,
jacks up prices, lopes the Ghetto,
with its gas point and memorial,
slabbers the Fourth Crusade,
the christian slaves, the Leads,
the torture chamber and the noose.
Skulduggery and double-dealing,
all have their uses;
from Mestre’s scarring smokestacks
to the Piazzale Roma,
stern-wash and bow-wave snagging at the roots.
Accordeoned gondolas of smily Japs
slide through a crook-backed bridge,
a dumpy crucifix amidships pumping La Paloma,
Sukiyaki and, you’ve guessed it, Santa Lucia.
Lovers and dancers,
masques and consorts,
Proust and Petrarch,
fossils on the balaustrades,
and Giorgio Porgio’s Maggiore;
but no-one nowadays believes in wolves.
Except this bored old dog,
slumped on stacked passarelli,
tipping a boot-black snout,
to wuff a welcome.
"Death’s-head Brother. We’re what’s left
of that last moment prior to Genesis.
Burned beyond recognition now perhaps,
but not a fraction gained or lost.
You with your conjurers and rhymsters,
me with an ox-blood collar,
skillet dreams, songs in the smoke,
an open highway hemmed with frost.
A Babylonian Tannoy shrieks,
tour guides bone up on Solresol and Volapük,
Ekselsioro, Glosa, Ulla, Ido.
This is the New Millennium. This is the Yen trap.
This is the old whore looking good by moonlight.
Anything you like but wolves.
Not once in this sick fairy tale.
Brushing swagged velvet with a hairy muzzle,
drizzling Murano crystal with their drop-jawed piss?
You must be touched,
annointed with the oil of gladness,
nudged off beam or just plain buggered up.
Sweet Serenissima has this effect.
Perhaps you downed a tot too much of grappa,
drowned out your proschutto with pro secco,
grappled with one too many cioccolate,
crooked a fish-hook at an excess of liqueur
and overdid the arty-farty?
What you can be sure of is that once
a horse clipped up the Campanile,
one day there were headstands on the Molo,
one day Marco Polo crossed the Gobi, so they say,
and one day this old machinating petticoat will turn her toes up;
tourists, Titians, Tintorettos and cupolas.
Gather ye snapshots while ye may.
The burbling vaporetto slides from side to side of Canal Grande,
gurgle and flush from Santa Marta to Burano and Torcello,
even though Yankee Henry and the other cognoscenti,
knew, and know, the damned things are a menance.
Plenty lions, plenty leather,
plenty poets dead or dying,
hand-made paper, hazy weather,
Byron, brocade, boats and blether;
but never mention wolves in Venice.