Near the seaport of Gouvia there is a small beach from which one can see the profile of the island all the way to the city of Corfu; opposite, uninhabited and barren, the mountains on the Greek-Albanian border rise from the blue of the sea, their yellow-ocher color dotted with a few scattered woodsy spots. It is a small beach, covered with dry seaweed, to which no tourists come, only a few locals. Next to it, beyond a thin fence, the beach begins with a large bar and an elevator that goes directly up to the condominiums that have sprouted a few meters from the sea. On the other side, a rocky promontory conceals the view of the harbor; at the top, some villas can be glimpsed amidst the vegetation. Some small boats are moored a few meters from the rocks.
One afternoon, a boy was wandering among those rocks. I kept noticing him with his head bowed, occupied with something, perhaps simply looking for crabs in the cracks or balancing himself between one boulder and another. From the place at which he had stopped, the view probably opened out to the other side of the promontory and to the port, so I too walked slowly towards the rocks. As soon as I had begun to advance into that stretch of rocks within the water, the boy started to walk ahead, moving away from me. The sensation of invading his territory made me halt. The boy also stopped progressing. He let a few minutes go by as if to make sure I would stay there, at the beginning of the rocks. Under his intent gaze, I looked back at the beach that I had left behind and took a few steps into the higher water, as if to reassure him: “I was taking a walk, as is often done after swimming, to dry off in the sun.” My message must have reached him because shortly afterwards I saw him again, his head bowed, busying himself among the rocks. I was close enough to him, but not enough to understand what he was doing: bent over as he was, he continued to be partly concealed by a rock. Maybe this is why he had accepted that mutually agreed-upon distance. Then I took a few more steps towards the water to get a better view, but without nearing him. And there he was, his back turned, both arms precisely lifting a big rock up over his head and then throwing it as if he were making a dam or carrying out some other obscure act. The boy had nothing to do with the villas amidst the vegetation, nor with the moored boats, nor with the small beach on which a few people had spread their towels. To my eyes, this series of events sufficed. I would not interrupt his ritual. Now I could go back and observe him from afar.
The shadow of the promontory was advancing, forcing even the most obstinate sunbathers to move away and stretch out ever closer to the fence, towards the wide beach where tourists on deck chairs were having an aperitif and enjoying the daylight until the very last sunray. A wind swirling up the sand and the seaweed incited the last sunbathers to get up and finally leave. At the end, only I remained, having moved from the shadows to the far end of the beach, and the boy among the rocks. I was still reading, despite the sand in my eyes. In fact, I kept gazing at the boy beyond the pages. I was waiting for him to come back so I could catch his eye and grasp something that would tell me about that spot, what it meant for him.
My waiting was rewarded. The evening had arrived for him as well. He marched across the beach with cadenced footsteps, as if he were counting them, his eyes lowered and with the air of someone who has to accomplish something. Only now did I realize that he had two empty beer bottles in his hands. He threw them into the trashcan a few meters behind me, then sat down on a low wall to remove the sand from his feet. The indefinable something enveloping him was about to disperse into the image of a teenager who had come to spend a solitary afternoon. Instead, he sprung up, went back to the trashcan, retrieved the two bottles, crossed the beach again and headed for the rocks. Arriving at the spot where he had thrown the big rock, he stopped and hurled the bottles firmly against a rock, breaking them one after the other. Now no one would walk barefoot between those rocks anymore. Nobody besides the boy who, as soon as he had sanctioned this limit, returned to the beach, took his bicycle and rode off.
—translated from the Italian by John Taylor
The Italian poet Franca Mancinelli was born in 1981. Her first two collections of verse poetry, Mala kruna (2007) and Pasta madre (2013), were awarded several prizes in Italy and later translated by John Taylor as At an Hour’s Sleep from Here (Bitter Oleander Press, 2019). In 2018 appeared her collection of prose poems, Libretto di transito, also translated by John Taylor for the Bitter Oleander Press as The Little Book of Passage.
John Taylor is an American writer, critic, and translator who lives in France. He is the author of several volumes of short prose and poetry, most recently a “double book” co-authored with the Swiss poet Pierre Chappuis, A Notebook of Clouds & A Notebook of Ridges (Fortnightly Review, 2019).