Capo Market, Palermo, Sicily
Fishmongers glance up from their knives’ quick work and call across the aisle. Their dark eyes shine like the appointed overhead lights that make slabs of fresh tuna gleam with an oily luster. Garlands of mint, full and green and pungent, circle the catch of the day, promising that this display is fish at its best. There will be a fortnight before the funeral flowers are strewn upon the blocks, declaring the final day of tuna. Qualcos’altro verrà. In meantime, we turn our heads to spot mounds of Vongole clams squirting long streams of water from one plastic bin to another.
Come faccio? I want a basket of apricots, but I know that I shouldn’t touch or squeeze or pick up the fruit. The vendor is helping another woman who wants what I want, only they know each other. They laugh and nod and seemingly complain about something, and they shrug. The woman sees me waiting my turn and sidles over to the basket I’ve just purchased and picks out
a plump apricot and takes a deep bite. Bene, she says, with a juicy mouthful. The vendor empties the rest of the basket into a handmade paper cone. Per te, he says, confidentially, placing the cone into my hand.
At mouth of, midway, and end of the open market, there are vendors selling street food. The first cart is a sandwich made in secret, that is, you never see the seasoned filling stuffed inside the pocket of bread, nor do you know its ingredients. You watch the vendor turn his hand over and over inside the cloth sack. Is it meat or vegetable or organ? You take the first bite; we imagine the flavor. Someone whispers: spleen.
Good humor. No name mutts lay sprawled out on old stone stoops, in the middle of the cobbled road, under vegetable stalls, only rise to their feet when they sense there is an opportunity at hand.
Voices rise and fall along the length of the market, marking our pauses and full stops. I pick a sweet white onion. It’s weighed. The vendor sees me as an easy mark and overcharges me. I say, no-no-no, shaking my head and pluck another onion from the bin. Eh? He eyes me with pursed lips. I drop both onions in my bag. Si? He agrees.
M.J. Iuppa, born to Sicilian-American parents, from the medieval mountain fortress town of Geraci, Sicily, is the Director of the Visual and Performing Arts Minor Program and Lecturer in Creative Writing at St. John Fisher College; and since 2000 to present, is a part time lecturer in Creative Writing at The College at Brockport. Since 1986, she has been a teaching artist, working with students, K-12, in Rochester, NY, and surrounding area. Most recently, she was awarded the New York State Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Adjunct Teaching, 2017. She has four full length poetry collections, This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017), Small Worlds Floating (2016) as well as Within Reach (2010) both from Cherry Grove Collections; Night Traveler (Foothills Publishing, 2003); and 5 chapbooks. She lives on a small farm in Hamlin NY.