Don Roberto's House

by Malachy Doyle

Robert Hawthorn Kitson sailed away to Sicily.
'I'm going to find the perfect place.
I'm going to build a house.'

When he came to Taomina,
He fell in love with the town and its people.
He painted the church, the Greek theatre,
The mighty volcano,
And the noses of watching children.

Then one day Robert found himself on a hillside, under a lemon tree,
Gazing out at the sea and the great smoky mountain.
'This is the place,' he said, with a smile,
'This is where I shall build my house.'

'You can't live here!' cried his friends from England.
'There's no one about, only peasants and pigs!'

But the local people said, 'We will help you, Don Roberto.'
The women used their mules and their donkeys,
To bring rocks down from the mountain,
And water up from the town.

The men climbed their rickety ladders,
Carrying seasoned oak and the finest marble,
And, slowly, but slowly,
A house of golden stone rose from the hillside.

'In my gardens,' cried Robert,
I'll have statues and terraces, fountains and fishponds.
And why not a swimming pool,
Right at the top?'

'I want roses,' said Robert, 'And lilies and irises.
Snowdrops and cyclamen, lavender, myrtle.
I'll have lemons and grapefruit, oranges, olive trees,
Almonds and medlars, cypress trees, everything!'

'You were right,' said his friends, when they came back to see him.
'It's a beautiful house. Can we help?'
So Frank made the furniture, all out of walnut,
Cecil drew pictures, and Albert did, too.
And they stood on the terrace, the rooftop, the balconies,
Painting their pictures, admiring the view.

And the day it was finished,
Don Roberto threw open the doors for a great celebration.
Everyone dressed in their finest -
His workers and friends, their children and everyone.

They danced tarantellas, they ate and they drank,
And out on the terrace, by the light of the moon,
Don Roberto said, 'Thank you, everyone, for helping me.
And welcome to Casa Cuseni, the house of friends.
It is the loveliest home in all of the world,
And it is where I shall live, for the rest of my days.'

A hundred years later, though Robert is gone,
The house and gardens are still there, by the snow-clad volcano,
Full of lizards and lemons, nightingales, housemartins,
An old woman who watches,
And a child who bears her name.

Casa Cuseni
June 2003