My Mother Came Home Today

My mother came home today.

Her journey was anything but easy,

Anything but happy,

Her body, anything but healthy,

And I longed to cradle her

As I believe she must have

Done to me

At some time in our lives.

 

My mother came home today.

Asleep in a refrigerator cold cradle,

No ruffled pillow for her head,

No hand-knitted baby blanket

To warm her bones,

The only rattling

The rocking back and forth

Of a brittle body.

 

My mother came home today.

She sits silently at her antique desk

And counts the green and yellow feathers

She saved

From each in a long line of parakeets

All named “Beauty.”

One feather falls behind the oak

Drop leaf desk,

But I haven’t the heart

To pick it up and put it

Where it will be

Out of sight.

 

My mother is home with me now.

She straightens the burgundy taffeta skirt

Of the antique boudoir doll

We called “Miss Kitty”

Because of the same black beauty mark

On her and Amanda Blake.

Our hands stumble silently into one another

And my eyes begin to blur.

 

My mother is home with me now.

She stands silently beside me in the kitchen

Inhaling the savory smells of freshly made

Spaghetti sauce;

Her famous spaghetti sauce,

With the “secret” ingredient, cinnamon.

At night, she tiptoes into my room

And kisses me goodnight.

 

Winning submission: Rhode Island State Poet 1992

The Bond

I send you on your way

With my love and a kiss,

Cupping your tender young face

In my hands.

No matter what I do,

You’re always missed

And I find myself

Waiting for your return.

 

I worry about you needlessly,

My fear of losing you too great.

I never learn the lesson

I profess to teach,

Often failing to practice

What I preach.

 

And then you’re in the door

And into my arms

A burst of life, a shout of joy,

Your smiling dirty face

Reflects the bond we share.

The love between

A mother and her child.

 

Published: Rainbows & Roses, 1988

Santuario Giallo Part IV

They spoke on the phone as often as they could, their parents always nearby, always listening.  Their conversations were benign but their parents suspected there might be more to them.  One evening, several years ago, when Giovanni’s father’s disability prevented him from making the Christmas Eve drive, Isabella and her family had come to them.  They brought all sorts of goodies-panettone, biscotti, café, zucchero, all things families brought each other on special occasions, and also for funerals, except for the panettone-that was a Christmas cake.

And so, after the day was done and Isabella had sat there the whole time worrying about Giovanni, they departed for home.  Isabella rang immediately to the phone.  There was no answer.  Although they traveled in different circles, there was a custom in Naples that had not yet died: the posting of someone’s death on large pieces of paper glued to anything that even remotely resembled a pole.  The next day, when Isabella’s mother went to buy some fruit and vegetables, she stopped dead in her tracks.  There was just such a posting announcing the death of Giovanni’s father.  She was grief stricken.  She didn’t know what to do.  She would have to tell her daughter, but how.

When her mother returned home, the deed had been done.  Isabella’s father had just come in from town and had seen the announcement himself.  Isabella was sobbing in his arms, making him promise to take them to Giovanni’s house as soon as her mother returned.

It was a somber encounter.  Giovanni’s eyes were reddened from hours of crying and his mother fared no better.  As soon as he saw her, Giovanni fell into Isabella’s lap and cried yet again.  The death had not been unexpected, but true death is always unexpected.  He had not been well for a while and had almost completely lost the use of his dying leg.  But he had died in peace and, for this, his family was eternally indebted to the Madonna.  He had died in his sleep.

The young couple went outside, Isabella trying desperately to comfort her friend.  The bond they had been hiding from their parents now openly apparent.  There were too many people in the house for anyone to watch them and in the back by the garden, they exchanged their first real kiss.

And a yellow butterfly alighted on her hand.

 

Published July 2012 IDEA GEMS Magazines

Monte Vergine Part III (of (IV)

Image

Both men embraced each other, exchanging kisses on both sides of the cheek.  They remembered the night of the Vigilia when Isabella’s father had given up his seat for Giovanni’s father.  They were as old friends now and Isabella’s mother insisted they join them for the meal and the special dessert of zeppole.

 

 At first, Giovanni was embarrassed by the offer, and even more so, by his father’s eager desire to accept.  They did not have spare coin to pay for such a treat and it did not seem like any sin was being committed in the accepting of such a gracious offer.  And then, there was always the zeppole.

 

 And so they dined together, and together with other families who had come to the mountain for whatever reason on this day.  They laughed too hard, the men nearly coming to tears, after several glasses of the recently-made wine.  Their cheeks were ruddy and red and the women watched their men with a cautious eye.  The children made friends after some initial awkward moments and then went off to walk around the church to the well-known butterfly sanctuary.

 

 It had happened by accident.  Years ago, monks had planted a special garden in the back of the hurch, all with the hope of enticing butterflies to come and aid in pollinating the beautiful flowers they had planted.  And their prayers were answered and, over the years, there were more and more butterflies each year.  And the flowers grew wildly but only in that small patch behind the church; they never strayed too far from the butterflies, each dependent upon the other, as a child is upon her mother.

 

 The men had decided to walk around to offset the alcohol’s effect and watched from a distance as their children chattered and laughed at something the other would say.  They looked at each other and smiled.  Too bad they lived too far from each other.  Too bad they were in different economic circles.  Too bad, just too bad.

 

 At the end of the day, the two families made their way down the mountain, Isabella’s father’s car the more stable of the two and therefore the one to lead.  At the bottom of the mountain, one went one way, and the other went the opposite way, hands and kisses waving wildly out half-open windows.

 

 But Fate was not through with these two families yet, and the families had agreed that every feast day of San Giuseppe, weather permitting, they would meet each other and that, in the future, Giovanni’s family would bring the zeppole.

 

 But as years went by, one feast day Giovanni’s family did not come.  Isabella’s mother chided her husband for worrying so about them.  They, too, had brought their own zeppole, knowing  how expensive they were at this time of the year.  They always brought extra of everything, and, at the end of each picnic, would give it to Giovanni’s family to bring back home.  It had become a tradition.  To refuse would have been maleducato, and far be it for such a long-time friendship to be marred by such a faux pas.

 

 But worry Isabella did and she would not let mother alone until she promised to try and phone them when they went back home.  If only to know all was well.  If only to know if Giovanni had missed seeing her.  She had grown quite into the signorina, bella, blonde, with huge blue eyes.   Isabella had come to anticipate the annual pilgrimages and she and Giovanni had become good friends.

 

Santuario Giallo – Part Two

Part II

Midnight Mass was being held in the main part of the church and, as always, there was standing room only.  After viewing the crèche, each of the two families made their way to see the baby Jesus carried down the aisle exactly at Midnight to herald his joyous birth and the promise of salvation once again in the new year.

 

Having to stand for such a long period of time taxed Giovanni’s father heavily.  Isabella’s family had found barely three places, but her father stood and offered Giovanni’s father his seat as soon as he saw the anguish on the poor man’s face.  He thanked her father profusely and the children looked at each and quickly glanced away, almost embarrassed to have met each other’s gaze.

 

The Spring came early that year and the weather warmer than seasons in the past.  Business for Isabella’s family was going well and a sudden thought occurred to Isabella’s family: they decided to give thanks to the Madonna and have a picnic at the top of the mountain where the church maintained tables and benches for just such outings.  The family had splurged on prosciutto and mozzarella di buffalo, fresh bread and wine from last September made by the father.  It was to be a feast.

 

And actually, it was a feast day, it was San Giuseppe, 19 March.

 

And they had stopped in a local pasticceria for zeppole, the symbolic pastry for that day.

 

 

Life had not been so kind to Giovanni’s family.  His father’s leg had healed, but not properly, and he now his paces were possible only with the aid of a hand-carved walking stick which he, himself, had carved while praying to recover the use of his leg.  True, he was not completely healed, but God had at least allowed him the use of the tortured leg and for that, he wanted to give thanks.  For that, he was still able to squeeze out the necessary money to keep his family with a roof over their heads, and food on the table.

 

Yet, on the feast day of San Giuseppe, Giovanni’s father deemed it a necessity to give thanks to the Madonna for the half-restored wellness of his leg.  Planning this albeit a bit beforehand, but not telling his family, he had had fashioned a leg made out of silver to hang on the wall of healing in the church.  He would be hard pressed to find a spot to attach it to, inasmuch as the wall was covered in such silver homage.  Legs, arms, prayers, other body parts hung by the hundreds on this wall, such a wall common throughout the churches of Italy when the unwell had been miraculously healed.

 

Isabella’s mother laid out the festive table with all of the special occasion foods and they sat down to the afternoon meal.  Giovanni’s father stepped outside the church to his waiting family, limping toward them, a look of pride that he had, indeed, found one solitary space to place his own tribute.  They passed by Isabella and her family and suddenly her father jumped up in recognition.

 

SANTUARIO GIALLO –  Part One

Up in the hills of Avellino, Naples, Italy stands a well-known sanctuary, Monte Vergine. Every year at Christmas, crèche of the Nativity are put on display for those who are able to make the dangerous trek up the long winding road which is God’s way of testing the stamina of those who make it. Passengers often hold on to rosaries, afraid to look out their windows lest they be torn from their seat and thrown over the numerous precipices thwarting each car all the way up, and the driver, all the way down.

Each year, Isabella accompanied her parents on their annual pilgrimage to this church to view the Nativity scenes, one older than the other, antiques, worth, well, priceless. It was just such an occasion when Fate felt she might intervene.

Giovanni, too, made such pilgrimages, but usually not on Christmas Eve. This year, his father had been hurt in a construction accident and his broken leg was healed enough for him to drive his small car up the treacherous pathway to redemption. He knew, in his heart, that such a visit, under such strenuous conditions (for it had snowed the night before and he had no money to buy chains for his car), would surely get him at least one benediction from the Madonna.

Giovanni and his family entered the church from the side entrance which was where all the crèche were on display. They, too, stretched up into the cupola of this part of the church, long winding roads peppered with shepherds and the three kings and the best of all, at the end of all of their journeys, the baby Jesus. Mary stood guard with Joseph and the Star of Bethlehem guided the rest to the baby’s manger.

Though all the same, all were different. The crèches came from all over Europe to be on display, but the most famous of all were the Neapolitan which the church had been collecting for years. Most were donated by wealthy families anxious to leave a legacy in their name in such a virtuous place, also hoping for those special blessings to fall upon them.

Others were bought from antique dealers, or willed to the church upon the death of an orthodox Catholic.

Still others had come from America, from Italian-American families who had discovered them perhaps amongst their dead grandmother’s attic storage, or a deceased spinster aunt who had come to America from Italy, who had left special instructions for the nativity set to be sent back to Avellino.

But from wherever in the world they had come, not one was worth more than another, especially in the holiness of Monte Vergine. There, each one was a star.