I am on a train travelling to Palermo, Sicily. We were delayed in Messina for dieci minuti, which made the Nonno sitting next to me very annoyed, but ten minutes doesn’t seem so bad when compared to the five hours I was told to expect these Calabrese trains to delay. Prior to our arrival in Messina the train was put onto a ferry so we could cross the stretto di messina, the passage of sea keeping Calabria and Sicily apart. My claustrophobia kicked in and I wanted to stay inside the train for this brief but unnerving oceanic passage. “But,” I thought, “if the ferry starts sinking I will not just be on a sinking ship: I will be inside a train on a sinking ship.” I grabbed my backpack and hustled off the carriage. As I drank a bitter, black coffee from the ferry bar, I comforted myself by thinking that if there was a Titanic situation I could at least dive into the sea. Hopefully, an old door would float past soon after, I could push Jack off, and await rescue.
I cannot tell if everything is before me or in front of me. For the first time in my life I feel like I am exactly halfway. Half of everything falling away behind me in the distance, and half of everything stretching out ahead of me. One long train track, and there I am, in the middle. I have just come from a conference about the Italian diaspora, where I spent a lot of time with Italians—some of them “more Italian than others,” some of them keener to assert this “more Italian than others” than others. From a purely critical thinking point of view, nothing about my participation at this conference felt particularly cutting edge. However, I think the robustness will become apparent via my reflections of the whole experience, beginning with someone’s argument that theorising the Italian diaspora must begin in Italy, and must be in Italian, and ending with someone else’s boozy, 4am quip: “when I told my Dad I wanted to be a poet, know what he said to me? ‘What are you gay?!’” The haughty principles of the first argument counterpoised against the mundane hurt of the second. Yet, why do I feel these two incidents are somehow related?
I will take all of these moments and slip them into my pocket: the misogyny hidden beneath one man’s sarcastic jokes and ever so slightly raised eyebrows when a woman—me—was talking about her work; the feeling of alienation on the bus as everyone chatted excitedly in Italian, a language intimately familiar to me in sound and rhythm, but foreign and incomprehensible in meaning; the way my body shook very early in the morning on the day I later presented; the tears that spilled over when Giovanna Riccio read a poem, Namesake. All of these things I will gather like small flat stones and add to my pocket, waiting for a calm day by the sea when I will pull them out, one by one, flicking them onto the glassy water’s surface and counting how many times they skim.
I feel my body relaxing into a place of placidness as I watch the sunset emerge. It has been a long time since I have enjoyed the sun melting crimson all over the blue-green sky so consistently, as it does this evening, as it has done every evening this past week in Southern Italy. In Australia, the sun drops cleaner, brighter, creating a yellowy orange sky; but here, the sun drifts towards the horizon like a hard-boiled lollie that has gone soft on the dashboard of a car. Allora, such sticky joys—sweetness tinged with sadness because you cannot suck on it any more today.
What will I do when I arrive in Palermo? What will I think of? How will I move my body? Will my hands find themselves on the small of my back again, just as they did in Tropea, the moment I stepped onto the main street sans suitcase? How is it that a place you’ve never been before can draw your body into a shape its known its whole life, learned discreetly from the quiet strolls with your father, as he peered into shop windows or stood back to assess how much fruit the birds had ravaged from the backyard trees? Allora, such sticky joys, sweetness tinged with sadness.