EVERYTHING ABOUT HER
Even after my Nono’s death, Nona prepared
the Saturday night spaghetti dinners for the family.
The adults gathering around the dining room table
full of the Old Country lingo, tossed as freely as the salad
and strands of pasta.
The grandchildren huddled together at the kitchen table
dripping with sauce and giggles. Five boys. One girl.
It took her all day to sauté the garlic and onions in butter,
cook the pasta til it stuck to the wall,
chop the tomatoes, the mushrooms, fresh from her garden.
What she did. For her family.
When I was eight, my mother in the hospital,
I slept overnight for weeks. She tucked me into those flannel sheets
when the sun still warmed the sky, and shook me from sleep
when the moon still clung to the living room walls.
She walked me to the hospital to visit her, let me
catch tadpoles in a jar at the pond. For me.
And through the years of weekend visits, we ate breakfast
by the kitchen window, just as the sun came streaming through.
Eggs, toast, tea with milk and sugar. Everything filled with the hint of
Sometimes we took the bus downtown. To Ratti’s Rummage Sale store
where she shopped for skirts for me
or some shirt-waist for a relative in Italy.
Her upstairs bedroom was full of such items, on hangers or in boxes.
What she gathered. For family.
When she could no longer pass me off for a five-year-old,
and the bus ride back to her house became too expensive
we walked the two miles back.
It was still morning, but Dairy Queen was open.
She told me stories about her mother. Who died when she
was three-days-old. And Nono, working in the coal mines of Calumet
when they first arrived in America.
In Battle Creek, securing jobs at Kellogg’s, raising four children
to go to school to teach them how to speak English.
When I was older, I was responsible to write her letters
to the aunts and uncles and cousins in Turino. My Nona would dictate.
She told me they wanted to receive letters in English
and would take them to a man in the village who would translate them.
I tried hard to write legibly. To press her voice onto the page.
Each day there was always something to do.
She taught me how to use the wringer-washer and hang the wet clothes
out on the line in front of her garden. Mop the kitchen floor with bleach.
how to weed the lettuce and cucumbers from the soil by the garage.
To wait for the ice-cream boy to walk down the street in the heat of summer
with his jingle-belled cart of popsicles. To not be disappointed
if he didn’t have cherry because grape was just as good.
She showed me how to be a good Catholic. A good democrat.
To watch the “stories” of Love of Life and As the World Turns
We went to the cemetery to visit the graves. Especially his.
I didn’t remember much of him except his scratchy beard.
Candy bars he always bought for me and hid in the cradenza.
I never asked what she remembered. But I always wondered.
She made me laugh with her vocabulary of “umbershoot” and
She taught me that West Side Story had the best sound-track
and the DiMaria sisters were the stars in Italy.
We danced across the living room rug. Or we sang all the songs
while we did dishes or dusted the furniture. She often forgot
I didn’t understand Italian. Half-way through a sentence
she would correct herself. Hug me.
It was what she did. With me. Without me.
Everything about her.
When I was old enough
we wandered the cemetery streets
for your dead friends’ and family’s graves.
We watered flowers, cleared weeds,
walked for hours in and out of your stories.
I always wanted someone to get up and run over
to thank us for coming
or for one of the porcelain photos stuck on those tombstones
to smile back at us.
Now, I brush your stone free of dead things
place daisies in the pot provided
for the gravekeeper to steal
remembering the plastic ones
Nono brought home to Nona each week.
All of us cousins knew where they came from.
Those smelly, sun-bleached things
she arranged in vases
for the dining room table.
Or maybe these flowers that I bring
will wither in the sun or just drown in the rain.
Maybe a dog will wander through
and pee on them.
It is a ritual. This cemetery visiting.
I watch those others, hands on watering cans,
hands in prayers, hands in hands,
hands dripping in tears,
with nothing else to do
but arrange and re-arrange the silence.
Just once I wish someone
would rise up from the grave
dancing and singing
because this is such a dead place
and no one wants to be here
and it really would make a perfect spot
for a picnic.
I could bring your cherry pie
and the old 33 1/3 records
you and dad danced to, and for once,
we could forget that life ever happens.
Biscayne Park, Florida