Inspiration in Sicily

Santa Lucia

In January,
the oranges and lemons hang heavy
on the arms of the fruit trees
in the Duomo.

They droop,
fragrant, sweet, fecund,
jewels for her majesty.

In the battered Chiesa next door,
penitents stare in supplication at the Caravaggio.
“No fotografia!” shouts the guard. His voice echoes against the limestone.
“È necessario lasciare! Ora!”

We’ve not taken a picture.
We whisper.
We wonder.

Before us is the martyrdom of Santa Lucia.
           Slain, she lies with her face tilted toward us.
           A slender dagger pierces her throat
           her bloody gouged out eyes
           already miraculously healed.

She is surrounded by men
           heads bowed in prayer and filled with regret
           for their lack of understanding.

Her youthful body now
a mystery they will never know.

Back inside the Duomo
           under the protection of Diana,
           Lucia is enshrined
           in gleaming silver
                       her bones displayed gilded boxes.
                       The slender dagger still pierces her throat.

Now she is carried on the backs of 40 men,
all dressed in green,
who sway in their own rhythm
as they parade her through
the streets of Ortigia.

She smiles, not despite the dagger,
but because of it.

In her cup she carries
her bloody eyeballs,
yet she sees,
through eyes restored by faith.

In her other hand,
her poised and ready fingers
grip the quill
that will write my story.


  A golden Jesus peers
Down through eyes shaped
           by Byzantium
to see me
  small, humbled,
  out of breath
  not believing in Him
  yet a believer
In this place
a sense of at last
understanding the men who preceded me.

First from the obsidian slopes of Etna
Then from the rolling hills of the Adirondacks
Both carrying
oranges bitter and sweet, volcanic dust,
and shame
like Noah’s sons,
who confronted by their father’s nakedness
covered his insecurity with
a cloak of propriety.

I cover my father’s burden
with conversations of Shakespeare and ancient cities
the places we’re both from,
a shared inheritance and
longing to understand what we can never know.

In the shadow of the golden Jesus
under the arched domes and
echoing limestone duomos
I imagine flying, like
Icarus over the snow covered peaks of Etna.

I race on three legs
whirling and spinning – a trinacria
a superhero racing toward my grandfather’s home.

My grandfather, who looks like the son of Normans
to me, like the sloe-eyed Byzantium Jesus
  whose golden radiance
  nods to me and shrugs,
           “Che fa,” he says, palms upturned
           “What does it matter?”  

Caravaggio’s Burial of Saint Lucy, 1608


C.J. Spataro  is the MFA program director at Rosemont College and the editorial director of Philadelphia Stories and PS Books. She is a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant winner, and her short fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming in Iron Horse Literary Review, Switchgrass Review, Cahoodadoodaling, Permafrost, The Baltimore Review, Mason’s Road, Painted Bride Quarterly, and others. Her work has also been anthologized in Another Breath, Forgotten Philadelphia, Extraordinary Gifts, and 50 Over 50.

Carla first came to Sicily in 2017 with her MFA creative writing students to explore and be inspired by Sicily, and to discover her family roots.

We are delighted to publish her poems “Santa Lucia” here, a homage to the patron-saint of Siracusa,  and “Trinacria”, inspired by Palermo, and also thank Michelle Messina Reale, founder and editor-in-chief of “Ovunque Siamo” New Italian-American Writing, where the poems first appeared.

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