Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Mending Strings"

This poem came out of the September 1, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] capriuni. It also fills the "welcoming" square in my 8-31-15 card for the Tones Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series.

"Mending Strings"

Giuseppe slipped away from the meeting
as soon as he was no longer needed
to fetch drinks or plates of antipasti
for his master Ettore and guests.

No one noticed the small boy leaving,
so he snuck up to the attic where
it was peaceful and quiet.

At least it was warm, and did not
remind him of frigid Friday nights
and Saturday mornings when he had
gone about the Jewish quarter asking if
anyone wanted a fire lit, because then they
would always invite him to sit by and tend it.

Instead he amused himself by nosing around
in the boxes and bags of things in the attic.
There were books so old that their leather covers
flaked away, leaving brown powder on his hands.
Faded gowns of silk and lace hung on cedar hangers
beside fur stoles whose black glass eyes seemed
to follow him as he backed hastily away.

In the very back he found a steamer trunk
full of dolls and hand puppets, with a marionette
tangled in one corner of the upper tray.

Giuseppe lifted it out as carefully as he could,
but some of the parts came off anyway,
the strings too worn to hold.

"There you are," said his master.
"I wondered where you had gotten off to --
we didn't mean to make you feel unwelcome,
but I suppose the talk got a bit dull for young ears.
What have you found up here?"

"A marionette, but it's broken,"
Giuseppe said, showing him the pieces.

"Ay now, do not make the sad eyes like
a puppy begging for sausages," said Ettore.
"Let's see if we can fix him up again.
I think the wood is still good, and
only wants new strings and
perhaps a bit of paint."

So they went back downstairs, where
the guests exclaimed over the find.
"That's one of your father's make,
isn't it, Ettore?" said one.

"I believe so," said Ettore, and
the boy envied those family ties.

But before Giuseppe's astonished eyes,
the dull clump of old men transformed
into a parlor full of uncles on holiday.

Someone fetched a spool of waxed string
and someone else brought out paint and brushes
while eager hands cleared off the coffee table
to cover the surface with newspapers.

The marionette was meticulously cleaned up,
all the old strings removed and measured
to make way for new ones to go on.

Every joint and eyelet was checked for
stability, and loosened or tightened
if necessary, with judicious drops of glue
around the base of any wobbly hardware.

Then Ettore touched up the paint
wherever it was chipped or faded,
and soon Orlando's bold costume
looked as bright as ever.

They trooped into the kitchen
for supper while the paint dried,
Giuseppe kicking his heels
against the rungs of his chair
until Nonna clucked at him
in warning, and he stopped.

They feasted on garlic bread with
mushroom and spinach lasagna, and
for dessert a cake with vanilla oranges.

It was all Giuseppe could do to wait
while Ettore attached the new strings
and put the rods back in place.

Then the old man twitched his hands,
and the marionette danced across
the red-and-blue Radici rug.

Giuseppe clapped his hands in delight.
"Oh, I wish that I could do that!"

"Come and try," Ettore said
with a welcoming smile.

When Giuseppe wrapped
his small fingers over the controls,
though, Orlando refused to obey him.
"Why won't it go like I want?"
the boy asked, frowning.

"That's the challenge of marionettes,"
Ettore said. "They're tougher than they look,
they can be fragile in surprising places,
and they're also a bit headstrong."

"Then show me what to do," said Giuseppe.

"Gladly," said his master.
He put his larger hands over
Giuseppe's small ones.
"The first thing to remember
is that you must always be
gentle with marionettes, for
every least little twitch will
go right down inside them."

Giuseppe was amazed to feel
how tiny the motions really were,
how very little effort it took for them
to move the marionette -- even though
the wooden body was heavy to hold up.

"Shall we have Orlando make his bow
to Nonna?" asked Ettore, and of course
Giuseppe agreed with that plan.

So the little knight marched over
to the matriarch and bowed.

Nonna solemnly reached out and
tied her lace handkerchief around
the hilt of his sword in token of her favor.

The small crowd of guests applauded.

And oh, that rush of welcome pleasure
felt better than anything else that
Giuseppe could remember,
driving the cold memory of
the streets a little farther
from his heart.

* * *


Giuseppe Mondadori -- He has olive skin, brown eyes, and short black hair. He is Italian, short and thin. Giuseppe likes to help people, and while stuck on the streets he used to make fires for Jewish people on Friday nights or Saturday mornings. After joining an influential Family under Ettore Cagliostro, Giuseppe has begun learning about organized crime. Mostly he just fetches and carries things ... and listens to the older men planning activities.
Origin: His powers grew in gradually during his childhood.
Uniform: Usually play clothes, occasionally something more formal. Used to scavenged street clothes, Giuseppe doesn't care for anything too fancy.
Qualities: Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Gentle, Good (+2) Street Smarts
Poor (-2) Favorite Target
Powers: Average (0) Mind Powers
Motivation: Survival.

Ettore "The Puppetmaster" Cagliostro -- He has olive skin, brown eyes, and shaggy brown hair going gray, with a bushy beard and mustache already almost white. He is tall and robust. He prefers practical wool suits to the fancier silk ones. His father used to make marionettes, which Ettore uses in his publically presentable job. He is a talented performer of Sicilian marionette theatre, along with other types of puppetry.
Ettore also runs an empire of organized crime, one of the most influential Families in Italy. His contacts reach throughout much of Europe. He is among the first people to welcome people who have superpowers, which soon gives his Family an edge over others. As superpowers become more known, soups need a place to go -- and some of them find themselves crowded out of everyday society. A wide network of spies makes it easy for Ettore to reel in both information and recruits. He is particularly prone to rescuing children off the streets.
Qualities: Master (+6) Mobster, Master (+6) Attachment Repair, Expert (+4) Compassion, Expert (+4) Politics, Expert (+4) Puppeteer, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Italian Philosophy, Good (+2) Manipulation, Good (+2) Soup-Friendly, Good (+2) Teacher, Good (+2) Wealth
Poor (-2) Dark Secret (fathered by a priest)

Giuseppe is the one we know as the 'modern' Puppetmaster. Ettore was his mentor.

* * *

Antipasti are Italian appetizers, often served as snacks on a platter.

Street children have been a concern in Italy and other places all along, but especially during postwar periods. Parenting such disadvantaged children poses extra challenges. In this case, Giuseppe's superpower gives him an advantage because he can clearly perceive who cares about him and who doesn't. But he's still picked up a habit of quietly disappearing when ignored, instead of asking for attention -- it simply didn't occur to him that someone could have fetched a toy for him or even sat down to play with him.

Marionettes are a key part of Sicilian puppet theatre. The marionettes may be controlled with rods, strings, or a combination; Sicilian tradition favors rods.

See an Italian dinner party menu.

Radici is an Italian company that makes beautiful rugs. Check out this Radici Bellissima 1318 Rug.

Organized crime has been part of Sicilian culture for many years. Sometimes it's a productive resistance movement, other times a complete nuisance, and the level of violence varies. The Marionettes are the top of the heap both in power and sophistication. They don't make trouble from scratch; they just don't feel restricted to purely legal methods of solving problems.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, entertainment, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, history, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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