Charcoal rainwater blazes and forks.
Like thin, black, sideways wet-fire,
it races unstemmed down Napoli sidewalks,
to dive, with a croak, into Napoli gutters.
Its rabid hydra-hisses, recorded,
are now broadcast indoors,
tinny through buzzy speakers
bolted to the high walls of the theatre,
far above the boxes and balconies.
Down below, somebody’s kid lurks in the wings,
stung by the scent of stage plaster.
Dull velvet curtains endure the tired chewing of moths -
and baroque gold-leaf stuccos flake in the dimness, hour by hour.
The stage is an organ-chord of rust-warm light,
a tonal atoll in the keen hush,
On it stand actors, waiting in place,
eyes down, ears up, basking unmoving
in the weak reprieve of the footlights’ dry heat -
wondering if it’s raining outside.
Lesser light dollops from the Director’s desk lamp
onto his rickety table nestled among the empty stalls.
The ashtray is live, the smoke ballerina demurely twisting upwards.
Leafed slowly by assistants, script pages crackle, booming through the house.
His blue rheumy good eye is nailed to the leading couple onstage.
They know better than to meet it.
He pulls on his cigarette, the ballerina blooming into ghosts.
He thinks wide and fast, yet unhurried.
Of the scene. Of the Bar Marocco it is set in,
as rotten and beloved as this once plush playhouse.
He thinks of the text, and of his years,
of the savage, sidesplitting mockery of misery that is Neapolitan drama. Neapolitan everything.
He thinks of his older brother, with his single novel, written before losing his mind.
Badwater, it was called. On the city’s maddening rains.
He pulls on the cigarette, thinking of Ballantyne’s,
He coughs like metal being torn apart at the bottom of a well.
He snarls something to himself under his breath.
His assistants wait for the sideways cerulean glance.
It comes, quick and glary. Then, skittish, it recoils into shadow.
There is a pause,
an assistant enunciates ‘From the top’,
and without any fuss,
up in the glow,
the actors unfreeze.