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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