On the Obsolescence of Caphone

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Last heard—with a lovely hiss on the "ph"—August 1982 during an afternoon game of scopaturned nasty. And now, missing alongside it,are hundreds of slogans, shibboleths, small

depth charges of phrasing. Like an island-colonyof sea-birds screeching our own special cry,I recall words all backwater squawk, recallthe curmudgeonly clunk and jump of their song,

a language dying out but always, someplace,going on, surfacing in a shoe salesman's patteror a grocer's chitchat, anywhere conversation'san inventory of old expressions marked down

to near-nothing and preserved past all value,spoken but never found on a page. Yesterday I listenedto some Italian roofers at work. Their hoots,guffaws and barkings-down to the truck. It was

buckaroo stuff, their dialect. Barisi, I think.Eruptive, roguish, and hard-edged—a vigourany poem would pestle to powder. But in the wayEnglish can, by trumping up a term, pay out

something more interesting than you intended—turn a smile into a smirk, make geese clackoverhead, or declare a birch's bole drubbed bareby a storm—immigrant jabber can flush into

the open a new word that shivers in the surpriseand rush of its arrival, like that spurt of winemy uncle, with a single suck on a plastic hosethreaded into a vat, would draw out, splashing,

into my glass. You capish? I say "immigrant"but, really, what the hell do I know? A bunchof banked-up bales I was never born to. Hey stronzo,my uncle Louie would ring me early Saturday,

think you can take a little break from slappingyour dick around and help me? He dubbed it'na giobba, said it'd be 'nu minuto, but I knewhe'd be exasperated at my speed and call me

moosho-moosh and send me back to my book—reading was making me too stonato for choreshe'd tell my father. Now I harvest my soundsfrom men like these, key my jargon to the spontaneous,

try-it-on effects of their speech, diction gutsywith curses, urge my poems to unschool themselves,to roughen their step as they tramp and turnto hoist and stack. No word too proud of its station.

No word dipped in oak-gall and soot. I wanta homemade vocabulary, tough-vowelled and fiercefor the sheetrock they shoveled, and the steelthey bolted with a ratatatatatat, and the bricks

they troweled with a one-on-two-bend-scoop-spread-tap-settle, and the sledges they whanged! on iron.For the meals they couldn't cook, but the rabbitsthey'd gut after knocking their heads with a cut of wood.

For the plush boat-sized Chryslers they drove,the two packs-a-day they puffed, and the grapes they grewin gardens pegged-out with plums and pears,apple trees grafted with five varieties of apple

and cherry trees spraying the ground with shade.A word for their conviction that all you neededwas a wrench, a handshake, a little money down.A word for the ends they never failed to meet

or the way they knew to drive a nail betweenthe haft's wood and head to rescue a hammer,or the afternoons when, over espresso, they'd crackthat women need a slap or two, to feel wanted,

or the way they spoke, with mouths awakened,mouths quickened by the volatile, unprissy,impurifying syllables of gabbadosta, or scimunitoor futtiti—itself a good word for the situation

(No speak. Stai zitto. But me I was too muchof a chacciaron' to stop and thus scostumatois what I was called when I was rude enoughto talk back. Le parole son femmine, e i fatti

son maschi—words are female and actions male,and they thought me femminiello, a bit faggotyin my careful, English talk. So what's what?My cousins ask when cornering me at weddings.

Well, you got gots is what you got. Go zappa—go work in the fields. But I do, my friends, I do,and I fear that when the Italian in me is donescything his last square of grass he'll pick up

and go, and the speech I heard and, at times, spokewill be the silence surrounding all my poems)that might one day leave my poems illiterate.I once dreamt of an eloquence like St. Ambrose's,

unblemished and discreet, lapidary and fluent,augered by a swarm of bees hovering abovehis infant mouth. Today, instead, I want my languagebashed to flinders and I will rummage among

its bits and scraps, its dwindlings and debris,toting up the reusable versus the gone-for-good.(And futtiti? It means ef-you-see-kay-e-dee)I want to answer noise with noise, to hit upon

subtitles that fit the gist of what I hear. I alwaysthought of myself as an airborne assumption,spored here from some other place, now I realizeI'm whatever comes across in the translation.

© Starnino Carmine