Words for My Italian Grandfather
 
O Muse
if you are worth your salt
let me speak well:
my Nonno is dead.
In his garden
he grew string beans
that hung in rows
eggplant and zucchini squash--
he chased us off
when we got near his tomatoes
bawling "Stupido!"
We made summer visits
back then to Baltimore;
I remember his potato nose
and the plastic St. Chris
stuck to the glove box;
he took his wine
in a small unbreakable glass,
ate dinner alone
hours before everyone else,
grumbled if he spoke
chewed through his words
which made him hard to understand-
but when he was feeling good
would make his muscle big
dare us to touch.
I have since learned
some of the story:
he ran away at thirteen
from Genoa,
his pop dead
and his mamma wanting him
to become a priest,
stowed away
and later joined
the Merchant Marine
until a U-boat
shot the deck out
from under him--
then he was a gaucho in Brazil
which he was always proud of.
In this country
he married Nonna,
went to work
at Bethlehem Steel
for above thirty years
the graveyard shift;
mom says she and Sonny
had to keep dead quiet
until 3:30 in the afternoon
when he woke up.
He followed the horses
and might have been rich
if he had let Nonna
patent her ravioli.
Mom says he get
mad as Belial
and throw his plate of spaghetti
across the kitchen
cursing everything
like the world was gonna end.
But Muse
O let me speak . . .
I know where I got my nose
and possibly my temper--
from that italiano
so foreign to a kid from Tennessee;
he'd walk me down
to the supertankers
drydocked for repairs,
held my hand
crossing Dundalk Ave.
He smoked Lucky Strikes
and died of emphysema
after great suffering
the loss of feeling
in both legs.
Last Friday night
he slipped away
I think on a raft
or some small vessel
with a sail
carrying him out
past the breakers
into the bright blue Mediterranean.
 

 

 

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