Conte, a journal of narrative writing.

The Proposal

Summer, 1973--

The smell of waterfront garbage
and burning wood saturates our clothes.
The sunset over the harbor
of Marseilles, scrolls slowly into
the west on its way to London
and New York, when out of
the blur of neon lights, on a warm
Mediterranean evening, just as we
are about to pay up and look for a room,
Giuseppe appears, suave but older,
mirror shades, settling into the empty
chair at our table with a beguiling
handshake, hair slicked back
like the fender of a black Cadillac.
His pigeon English burps and stutters,
and he says, "My name Giuseppe
from Catania." He orders a beer.
He is more than a simple deck hand
on a freighter and we welcome
his foreignness. I share my
American cigarettes with Giuseppe
who invites us to stay the night
aboard the Maria, and we accept.

He serves us gritty Chianti in
stubby glasses from the bathroom.
We drink & laugh, the little glasses
emptying quickly under dingy lights.
We shake hands a hundred times
for no apparent reason. Shelley and I
unroll our sleeping bags, climbing
into his berth, and the last I see
of him this night before he slumps
in a chair against the wall,
he's hovering above, a shadowy moth
propped against the iron bulkhead,
one hand on the light switch
while the other reaches toward me
for a final, soppy handshake.

We never went to Sicily, and I
never imagined that Giuseppe
had awakened Shelley that night,
whispering a wine soaked song
about her unsurpassed beauty
and the idyllic hours ahead on Sicily
with goats and barefooted children
glistening water from a deep well
fragrant grasses on the mountainside
mounds of lemons and lace ribbons
dyed in bowls of pomegranate juice
a bed of peacock feathers to nap on
where no one has thought of wax roses
and in his bungalow above the bay
she will sleep on the water in his hands
and the sun will warm her breasts
while her body tingles with life
blanched in the sea breeze
that passes through Catania
on its way to Gibraltar
and the Americas