Where part of the back wall of the scena
of the Greco-Roman amphitheatre
has collapsed, we can see the sun setting
on Etna, its smoke drifting like a veil
over the sea. The town’s orchestra –
of mandolins, lutes, guitars, double bass –
with its plangent, sentimental, heart-
rending timbre plays the prelude to act one
of Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’…
We saw the opera at the Bolshoi –
with its gilt chairs and the Romanov box
with the hammer and the sickle above –
the month Vladimir Putin was first crowned.
When we left the theatre in the soft dusk
of May there was a babushka begging.
In the Lubyanka metro station,
a drunken man rolled down the escalator…
As Venus appears in the south east,
the orchestra plays encores – ‘Volare’,
‘Torna a Surriento’, ‘Ritorna-me’.
The audience, mostly local, largely
female, sways and hums, secure, for that moment,
in its campanilismo, thinking of amore…
Small boats are approaching, in the thickening
dark, from North Africa and the Levant,
chartered by men – vessels overladen with
women and children, craft whose landfall, whose
free fall will set tolling each and every
bell in the frantic campanile.