last year I published a poem in Chiron, a wonderful print magazine. it is the story of my grandfather and his immigration to the US
Because of Papa Nicole my entire family were able to become Italian citizens
for my grandpa Papa Nicola and all immigrants
Papa Nicola fled Montagano by foot, cart, ferry, to board at Le Havre
a steamship bound for Ellis Island. Off the boat, he pushed and shoved
through seas of men hawking pickles and smoked meats to arrive at Mulberry St.,
to share a room with brother Julio.
Papa, short and slight, could not haul or lift, failed as a longshoreman. He fled on foot, ferry, train to the mills of Rhode Island where he threaded looms until his eyes wept from flax and dust. He stole strands of wool in sunset, apricot, cloudy skies, hitched back to NYC to starve in a dark room lit by a neon sign
On warm nights he played his trombone, the wawa sending him back
to the baroni's taunts, "What did you eat for lunch?"
Papa's answer? A shrug.
He tried to forget stomach pains so intense he was forced to munch on dried
squirrel skins. He forgot the taste but couldn't erase the baroni's list: roast rabbit, dandelion greens and a fig tart with coddled crème
Papa's wawa sounds leaked to the streets. "Hey music man,
you need a job?" Papa hopped on the bus, got hired on the spot, worked as the belly man at Steinway for 40 years. Moved to a three story house in Astoria, planted grapevines with dangling tendrils of curls and met a girl who wore her kinky hair tied with blue ribbons and prayed to a crucifix braided with blessed Palm.
He married that girl, Maria Chiara, gave her the strands of wool in gold, apricot, cloudy skies to weave into her cross as a talisman. Nana gave Papa the gift of Mario,
Jules, Fid who all left at 16 for the mills while Papa tweaked piano strings
for the rich, always dreaming of figs and apricots.
In his backyard PapaNicola ate and ate, drank his homemade wine until drunk, swayed under the grapevines with his brothers in a pickup parade. Papa puffed out his cheeks on the trombone, Julio blasted his trumpet and Rocco held it all together with the big tuba's oompah-pah's.
None of them forgot, didn't bury words with music, couldn't push the taunts under the speeding El, never erased the baroni's sneer, You are Terrone, dirtylazynogoodBlackmen