A post called Starting Over was selected for Freshly Pressed. Made me swoon ~ THX, WP. And then another, Do Try This At Home. I’ve written for some books, magazines, newspapers, and websites, and visited a lot of libraries. Once, they let me be on NPR. Kind of. If anything amazing like that ever happens again, or I have deep thoughts about umami or tomatoes, I’ll probably tell you.
I also have a little poetry blog, MentalCrumbs.
Need me to write something for you? Drop me a line.
(photo at the Warner Theater, from Teaching Tolerance magazine, The Knight and the Cellist)
The Absolut Truth About Me, Toni
Need to reach me? email@example.com
This writing thing? It’s a carnival all my own. The Biggest Little Show on Earth. Step right up, Lady. I can take a chance, try my skill, test my strength, guess my own weight, or end up a sideshow curiosity. I travel from place to place, thanks to my MacBook; admission to the blank page is free. I’m my own entertainment. 🙂 There isn’t any calliope music but I do crank out a few tunes on my piano, making up lyrics as I go. Food and beverages? Yep, got those. Deep-fried candy bars and fried dough? I keep hopin’. I’ve got all my original parts and, by and large, I operate trouble-free. And like the Ferris wheel on the Midway, the writing is just plain fun. It’s been a thrilling ride since the day I invaded, er, was invited into The Writing Group of Two. Patty and Ronnie said ‘Oh come on, join us on Friday afternoons’. What? My TGIF-and-Absolut Afternoons? I whined, kvetched, groused, grumbled and gave in. We had ‘our table’ at Hannah’s, drank coffee and ate cookies the size of dinner plates. We sipped Prosecco to celebrate the good times and left when Hannah turned off the lights. But mostly, we read our writing to each other. The stories drew us together; the writing until wee hours on Thursday nights did not disappoint. And, then, there was the unexpected development. Who knew the balance of power was about to change? Italians, 2. Pilgrims, 1. (Then Mary joined us, so now Lithuanians have a presence.). As teachers, we have the language skill and literary foundation. The wheel and engine, in Ferris-wheel-speak. But what we were able to construct, just like that bridge maker George Ferris, is larger than anything we imagined. We are the beams, struts and supports for each other.
And all of it inspired the confidence that led to The Audacity of Submission. Rejections? I’ve got a folder. A big one. But I’ve also got a list of published work that will live here as a reminder that this traveling amusement show ain’t over yet.
“If I shoot at the sun, I may hit a star.” P.T. Barnum
Newspapers: The Christian Science Monitor, Hartford Courant, Waterbury Republican, Senior Voice, Happy Times, Northern Light, Auto News
Magazines: Weston Magazine, New Hampshire To Do, Heart of New Hampshire, Family Fun, New Hampshire Magazine, Good Old Days, Reminisce, Teaching Tolerance
Journals/Publications: Writers on the Rise, Women on Writing Newsletter, Writer’s Digest, Passager, Binnacle, Still Crazy, Italian Americana Cultural and Historical Review, Greenprints, Boomergirl, Aethlon, Euphoria, Yesterday’s Magazette, Square Table, Boomer Women Speak, UK Travel, Ditchwitch, Smokin’ Keyboards, Trail Runner, Homeschooling Horizons, Viatech, Stonyfield Farms, Hither and Yarn, Good Old Days
Awards: Erma Bombeck Global Human Interest, S. Portia Steele, Henry David Thoreau Society, Binnacle
Miscellaneous: NPR Colin McEnroe Show, Bushnell Theater, JCC Annual Book Festival
Anthologies: Poetry of Marriage, Poetry of Relationships, Silver Boomer Anthology, Birth Anthology
Thirteen Random Things About Me
- My given name is Anthonia. Not anybody’s first choice. That would be Anthony. That last critical syllable got changed in the birthing room, much to the dismay of my grandfather.
- I’m an only child of parents who were past mid-life when I was born. They didn’t adjust their lives much so I got to shuffle through antique stores and scuff around gravel pits a lot. Disneyworld? The Atlantic Ocean? You’re kidding, right?
- My Aunt Phil was a bookie and my cousin Lenny was the head of the steelworker’s union in That State that’s famous for political hijinks. (Hmm, doesn’t narrow it down much, does it?) Aunt Phil made a mean marinara. And Lenny, he didn’t have to walk on steel beams or stand atop high-rises during construction – ever.
- I never went to camp. I didn’t learn to swim. Which was never an issue anyway. (see #2)
- If it couldn’t be made in a Dutch oven, Mom didn’t make it. And no one else could either. Our kitchen was a closed shop. I love kitchen gadgets and gizmos and all things culinary. I went to France to cook with Michelin chefs but still can’t eat foie gras.
- I recognize chocolate as a food group. You’ll find it in the trapezoid at the bottom of my pyramid.
- Regrets, I have a few. But that’s the Unbearable Lightness of Being Me. I’ve had sixty-one Januarys of joy and luck. How good is that.
- About that luck – In high school, there was a bomb scare during midterms. The test period was shortened, so I didn’t have to translate the last section on the Latin IV exam into English. Thank you, caller, you saved my a**.
- I like to pass cherry-red Ferraris on the Amalfi Drive, Bugattis on the Lake Como road, and RV caravans on the interstate.
- I am a devotee of http://www.freecycle.org, enriched by the opportunities to reuse and recycle stuff with like-minded folks.
- The sound of glass clinking on marble is music to me. There’s going to be fine wine at dinner tonight. Not Black Box.
- Give me anything bobbing in garlicky butter. Julia does know best.
- Hold onto your escargot….more random thoughts ahead.
A WordPressish Blog So Recherché It Makes the New York Times Seem Like the Cheechako Daily Dispatch
This Is It. Words We Women Write. We are two writers who are crazy about words. And we are smitten with WordPress – it’s the rabbit hole we’d been seeking – a place to write, learn and socialize. Our blog is a combination of two main passions: writing and writing. OK, three – writing, writing and reading about writing. It’s here that we post memoir, poetry, and random thoughts– our digital Wonderland of how we see the world.
So here’s what we’re about:
1.Writers write. That’s what we do. We write to share with each other and everyone who wants to read our wordz, wordz, and more wordz.
2. We write often, post less. That Queen of Hearts, aka Revision, has us all by the throat. But we won’t let her flailing flamingo mallets intimidate us. We don’t blog on schedule, we blog on whim.
3. We write to touch your heart, stir a memory, fiddle with your mind. We’re the grin without the cat.
4. We write and shoot. What better place to tap and click than on a keyboard in front of the bazillion share buttons that can send our words flying.
5. We write on screens, in notebooks, and on napkins. And we tell the truth as we remember it.
6. We write and read and then we write some more. There’s so much great prose to admire, it might make us better. We anticipate that happy accident.
7. We write in a time where social media is a long hall with many doors. Oh my ears and whiskers! We’ve only just begun to discover its secrets.
8. We write on the advice of the King of Hearts: “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
Words We Women Write – It’s a Mad Tea Party. Lemon, anyone?
Under the grey-white skies of early morning, folks brew a pot of coffee and watch the snow pile up near the Masonic Temple. The Littleton Courier reports a crew from Bethlehem Junction is preparing a foundation for a new structure due to arrive today. Men, women and children hurry down to the railroad tracks. And this is what they see: a modern 1930 parlor car. A few months later, Eugene and Stella Stone open its door and 25 people sit down to dinner.
The Ammonusuc River rushes over a bed of granite, snakes through town and escorts visitors into Littleton, New Hampshire. Main Street is chock-a-block with tourists and locals. See kids make a beeline for Chutters, the store touted in the Guinness Book of World Records for having “the world’s longest candy counter.” Stand in front of the library where bibliophiles drift into the welcoming arms of a Pollyanna, a bronze reminder that everyday is “Glad Day”. See art enthusiasts head to the Ammonusuc Gallery. Gather with a gaggle of teens at the Jax Cinema or microbrew aficionados at the Italian Oasis. Hungry for some tasty fare? Work your way up Main Street, past the window stacked with bestsellers, past the hardware store with its picks and shovels. Just beyond the red slides and blue swings at the daycare center, they scale the steps and pile into the diner.
How much in life depends on chance. I stumbled on the Littleton Diner one chilly March afternoon. It’s like your favorite easy chair-part circus, part command post and all pleasure. It’s ducktails and bobby-sox, burgers and fries. Not much has changed since Bette Davis was in town to celebrate the world premiere of her movie, The Great Lie, in 1941. Some say she nursed a raspberry-flavored lemonade at the gleaming silver counter. Others insist she poured pure North Country maple syrup on her short stack of buckwheat pancakes.
The diner is authentic, unpretentious, and takes root inside of you. Nostalgia hangs out by the cash register, greets customers, and watches memories pop – a first date, the malt after the school dance, the rumble of the glass-pack on a 57 Chevy. Beach Blanket Bingo is on the screen – muscle shirts and polka-dot bikinis, Frankie and Annette on the red-ribbed seat of a hot-rod convertible.
I stand at the counter and reel in my imagination. Thwap. Thwap In the kitchen, a mallet pounds meat. The poster that advertises the local theatre troupe hears it too. I slide across the vinyl seat of a window booth. The tattooed waitress is engrossed in a cryptogram, brow furrowed, pencil scratching. I ask her if she does Suduko. No, I don’t like numbers, she says, never did like this either, but I tried it once and now I’m hooked. She hands me a menu. It tells the story of Eugene and Stella, the couple who ordered a “modern parlor car” the same year that William Howard Taft was calling the Supreme Court to order.
The waitress brings coffee and we chat. I get a tour of the “new” addition, the dining room, and see the mural painted by students from the high school art department. It borders the ceiling and depicts the four seasons of the North Country. In the panorama of Littleton’s Main Street, she points out a hotel, lost to fire but not forgotten by townsfolk. On a nearby shelf, souvenir mugs and T-shirts nudge sacks of flour, stone ground by the gristmill on the banks of the Ammonusuc River.
So many choices – breakfast or lunch, coffee or tea, frappe or float. In the true diner tradition, breakfast is served all day so I order an omelet, a newfangled one with eggbeaters. Industrial strength hash and eggs headline the menu; assorted pastries and short-order specials are listed below.
Breakfast is delicious. The kitchen is quiet now, muted by the glow of a solitary bulb. The door swings open and a gregarious fellow with a preference for fair trade coffee comes out for a cup. He wears a tie-dye T-shirt and he’s a man with friendly eyes, a neat ponytail and a talent for conversation. We shoot the breeze, talk about the old days. Things are changing, he says, it isn’t the same. Summer, folks lock their cars. Winter, it’s cold; they leave ‘em runnin’. Hey, Merry Christmas to anybody looking for wheels. I tell him what I read in the Boston paper about a Sawzall. Seems hooligans use them to cut off catalytic converters, and then sell them to the scrap man at 100 bucks a pop.
I pay the bill and read the guestbook entries. It’s jam-packed with visitors from all over the world, strangers who become friends here. They order up a North Country Burger and a slice of America, drop an affable one-liner, stay a while, take it easy. And in the back booth, you can almost hear Eugene and Stella having a high old time of it.
My mother lies with unblinking eyes,
her backed-up plumbing a harsh betrayal,
mouth open as if to speak,
a knot of air tense between us.
With eyes pearled cold, she stares at the open closet.
Satin, taffeta, and flounces of organdy
roost above the fabric of hospice care,
like flamboyant birds on a wire.
A thin white sheet covers the unnatural splay of bare feet
that danced out the disappointment to exhaustion.
The room is empty tonight. I read
poems, poems, poems
as if one poem makes a difference over the other
and the reading itself is important to the cause.
Here comes the girl with the serpent tattoo who hangs her iPod
on a string around her waist,
the Harley rider in black leather, do-rag, and shades,
the woman with the crooked smile who neck wrestles her llama,
the veiny-cheeked fellow angular as a poisonwood tree,
the pony-tailed waitress who uses her keys like brass knuckles-
they all meet at the gym
and, oh Lordy, they sweat.
From morning till night, they bench press barbells,
squat and lunge to the insistent throb of Aerosmith, hear Steven Tyler wail
Got to get that monkey off my back
I’m quittin’ sugar, says the woman who gulps bitter tea.
I made believe the devil made me do it
I chucked my Zippo, says the man who cleans his ears with matchsticks,
and emptied my last bottle of Kickin’ Chicken.
You best believe I had it all and then I blew it
These are the gym rats, in this cave of city brick yellow as smoker’s teeth,
weighed down by remorse, regret and dimpled thighs.
Bakers and bookies and painters and plumbers
stare at mirrored walls, the half-truths in their eyes.
They labor, fail and try again
and oh, they sweat.
They feast on that moment of flawless form,
a fleeting moment of perfection,
and breathe in the present before it becomes the past,
never to be perfect again.
And here’s my license to play ~
|liberty as a poet, prose writer, and artist to deviate from rule, conventional form, logic, or fact, in order to produce a desired effect.|
Aunt Phil earned her money the hard way. Six steps from a curb in Trenton, Aunt Phil is in the kitchen eating pigs’ feet while she reads Oggi, the Italian newspaper. A pot of tomato sauce simmers. At the far end of Jersey, the ponies wait in the dew of early morning.
The calls come.
“The price is right, Phil, Cheap Shot, 20 to 1 in the fourth.”
Aunt Phil scratches numbers on slips of paper and enters the bets into a notebook where she does the “figurin’ up”. Handicaps and hunches are tacked on the wall. She keeps impeccable records of bets placed, payoffs made and debts owed. The TV is on; she never moves the dial. Her eyes scan the rosters, one ear tuned in to the bawdy announcers. By midday, the sauce glistens and pasta waits in the pot. The men come, steelworkers with union connections – Aviglianese, Abruzzese, Sicilgiani – in hard hats and steel-toed boots.
Business can’t be done without a bottle. Aunt Phil sends her homemade grappa around the table. It splashes into shot glasses and jelly jars. During craps and card games, she seals ward votes with grim determination. Cousin Lenny stands by the door, the sergeant-at-arms at the grand old brownstone.
‘Business associates’ come and go from the table, the red-checked oilcloth threadbare from the elbows of petitioners and politicos. Aunt Phil negotiates, her raspy voice authoritative. She does not waver as she speaks to the men with ruddy faces and a love of fast ponies. The ‘constituents’ wait for her response. Most of these hardhats wouldn’t pluck a hen without consulting her first. At the end of the day, she puts the roll of bills in the cigar box and secures her paperwork from the day’s take.
Then Aunt Phil heads to the third floor bedrooms, her footsteps muted by the El train. The glare of its lights wash the walls with grains of yellow. She gently tucks the blankets around her children, touches each curly head and makes the sign of the cross. “Ti’amo, ragazzi, I love you.”
In Zia Mary’s Kitchen
A wispy halo on her chin, a fuzzy crescent above her lip, Zia Mary’s fine hairs glisten as she fries peppers and fusses with the polenta. On the four-burner Wedgewood, she simmers gravy in the dented pot handed down from mother to daughter. Zia adjusts her apron, its sackcloth edges embroidered with neat red crosses, and wipes her hands across ample hips. She gives the spaghetti a fervent stir.
Zia is never far from her spices or her saints. Christopher and Anthony, salt and pepper, Jude and Theresa, parsley and oregano -they crowd the shelf by the stove. She talks to the chipped plastic, asks favors, or scolds the faded figures if they disappoint. She sets the wooden spoon at St. Anthony’s feet. The saint smiles at Zia. She smiles back.
Zia Maria is pleased to have the family here. The table is swallowed up by chairs. A cut-work cloth covers the gaps between the leaves, a filet of lace softens the slight warp of the wooden planks. On the table’s rough underside, faded numbers and letters collide, written in faint foreign script. It is as long as the Piazza San Marco and covered with food: polenta, meatballs, breaded chicken and veal, baked eggplant, fried peppers.
There is fresh bread, pane di casa, swaddled in creamy linen and chiappe, roasted tomatoes that laze in the sun until they are wrinkled as raisins. A litany of cheeses- aged asiago, a soft wheel of pecorino, grated parmesiano– crowd stuffed olives and sopressata on the platter. Zia brings finocchio, gently wrapped in yesterday’s news, the fennel stalks ready to dip in a warm bath of garlic and oil.
Always, there is vin di casa, drawn from the barrel in the cellar. Zia sets the pitcher on the tablecloth over a willful red stain, the one that suggests loud talk and singing and storytelling. The men eat with their hands, argue and yell, sometimes too much, but never speak of miseria. The women talk of the hill towns in Italy where they washed clothes in rainwater and chased fat brown hens. They are the immigrant sons and daughters who meet at the table, who merge into the mainstream of America. Some have names like Scevola, Calvino, Orsino- weighty names that reek of steam ships and close quarters. Others are called Amerigo, Fortunata, Colombo- hopeful names. Names that say We are American now.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>..Amicizie e maccheroni, sono meglio caldi.
……….Friendships and macaroni are best when they are warm.
I sit with Marvin Gay on Georgia O’Keefe’s porch in Abiquiu.
We listen to Billy Collins recite his poem,
Taking off Emily Dickenson’s Clothes,
reminding us that life is a loaded gun.
Ted Hughes wears a precarious smile,
a bossy wind ruffles Sylvia’s hair.
Billy Joel riffs behind the black door.
Diana Ross scat sings with Lady Day,
tossing random syllables at bleached bones.
Georgia mixes adobe red and ocher for Frida
who paints herself in frontal pose,
a crown of thorns around her neck.
There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on in the courtyard
where the boys in the band are jammin’
where John Coltrane lays sheets of sound
where BB King lets Lucille do the talkin’
where Satchmo grins a rainbow of teeth
where Ringo kicks in the backbeat,
and Jerry Lee Lewis rakes his hands across the keys.
Later Pavarotti and Sting braid strains of the Angelicus,
send them off on the katabatic wind.
There are more poems from Billy,
Donald Hall and Mary Oliver,
Arthur Miller revises the script for All My Sons,
sips his nightcap cigarette.
A shower of meteors arrives like fan mail.
Faces tilted toward the moon,
we count stars over Chama Valley.
Julia Child brings out platters
of Champignons Farci and Salad Nicoise.
The Creator joins us at the long plank table
and we lift our glasses with Her
to honor the art written into our inheritance,
priceless leavings of the past.
I tell Her I know what Heaven is all about.
This is just to say
I have taken the last piece of pie
that was left in the tin
and which you’d probably expected
to see this evening after dinner.
It was so tempting
And, yes, as irresistible as you.
…………………( with thanks to William Carlos Williams
…………………….and an apology to a Better-Than- Great Guy
All the day I longed for Italia
I thought if I could purchase
Parmesiano from the grocery
or drink Limoncello, tart and cold,
to cleanse the palate and soothe the throat
or eat aciuge, salty and bold,
or read tales of Dante I could quote,
Ah, then, I’d be in Nervi for sure;
the olive groves, the vines of grapes
where on terraced hills a warbler trills.
But to be in the Italia I know
Stop’n Shop is not the place to go.
My grandmother: Maria Giovanna Colangelo
chases the fat brown hens through dusty blue grass and scrub
on the hillsides of Avigliano,
peels fresh figs and splits open their pulpy redness with her freckled hands,
carries water up steep hills, past tall cypresses,
through iron gates to the piazza where Mussolini exercised on Saturday mornings.
My grandmother prays to the Madonna as she polishes the altar rail,
strokes her father’s hand and whispers in dialect,
offers purple berries to her husband and
sings lullabies to her children behind the shutters
until the day she sails on the Duca D’Aosta to Ellis Island,
registers the mole on her left cheek and
scratches her mark on the paper.
My grandmother: Alien Number1051939.
My Old Man and Me
July 26th is my father’s birthday. If he were alive, he’d say he’s 94, 95 or 96. During the Depression and wartime, he adjusted his birth certificate accordingly because he was underage when he first began to set off dynamite charges for the road crew. After I came along, he became a foundryman and made a life on a few acres outside of town.
Every July 26th, my mother dressed for Mass and had dinner with the St.Anne’s Society. But for my father and me, it’s T-Day. My father expects red tomatoes by his birthday and he gets them. We share the salt shaker and eat those beauties, warm and juicy off the vine. This is Our Time, the season we spend outside doing Interesting Stuff. I watch him concoct nutritious plant sprays that, in time, peel the skin off his face and arms. Don’t tell your mother. I see him mix noxious solutions that, when poured into the ground hives of bees, send clods of our backyard over the hill and onto Henry’s porch. I’m there – hold that ladder still – when he becomes airborne while rescuing discarded sheets of fiberglass awning from Joe-Across-The-Street. I hold the tools while he cobbles together a grape de-stemmer for our family winemaking, shovel cement so he can construct a three-tier Roman fountain complete with statuary and lug bricks for the outdoor kitchen, arched beehive oven, grill, sink -The Works.
He’s pretty much unstoppable and I’m his Right Hand Man.
I steady the mold for the working lighthouse he erects in the front yard, make patterns with flagstone for patios and sort rocks for walls.
We root around in the garage and scour his cache of odds and ends in search of the elusive nut, bolt or screw to repair and reconstruct all manner of engine-powered machinery. Like I said, interesting stuff.
And then, there was the summer Cleve Gray came to town.
The Art Men Do
The village of Kent is a quilt-square town of a few thousand souls, open on all sides to the hills and forests of northwest Connecticut. It’s home to a bevy of artists and writers, offices and studios cheek-by-jowl with bookstores and bistros. There’s plenty of croissants and coffee to be had on Main Street. But mostly there is Art….in the shops and in the galleries, on rooftops, walls and windows. The lawns are dotted with sculptures and freeforms of metal, wire and wood, glass, brass and bronze.
The Morrison Gallery on Old Barn Road had a popular exhibit a while ago. Perhaps you saw it – the works of Cleve Gray, mainly acrylics on canvas, fields of intense color inspired by his travels around the world. There’s some painted papier- mache forms, oils on linen and marble dust on paper. And then there are the bronzes, simply numbered – No. 126, No. 9, No. 152. They are small and set on white pedestals.
Cleve Gray caused quite a stir at our house. I was a self-absorbed teenager, none too curious about the man coming to my father’s foundry. And so, I missed the opportunity to meet this incredible artist whose paintings hang at the Metropolitan, the Modern Museum of Art and the Whitney. Each night after work, my father sucked on his pipe, tobacco pouch in his misshapen vest pocket, and talked about Cleve. I half-listened to the story of the artist who came from the bucolic village of Warren. I know that he drove past meadows and down leafy lanes to The Shop, through the chain link fence and across cracked and weedy tar to make art with a foundryman. On these days, the two men stood toe-to-toe and pored over sketches. For my father, it was quite a change from the usual jib cranes and bull ladles. Most days, he trekked miles though the subfusc alleys of the foundry, conferred with patternmakers and bench molders, sweated in the inferno of melting steel and arc torches. Chemical processes, bonds and alloys, trial and error in search of the perfect formula were all part of his strict routine. My father’s life revolved around pig iron, not pigment. Except when Cleve came to town.
I have no idea how long Cleve stayed. I can’t be sure that he and my father created the bronzes at the Morrison Gallery, but I do know that this unlikely pair with a passion for art found it on the playground between molten steel and oil paint. I don’t pretend to know the conversations they shared or the details of their work. But I do know that the foundryman in the steel-toed shoes, a man inspired by rock quarries and gravel pits, met a gifted artist and felt blessed.
They were as different as bread and cake. My father barely made it through eighth grade, then worked construction and juggled three jobs, catnapping on the floor; Cleve traveled through France and Italy. The year I was born, Cleve bought the Warren house, set up his studio in a barn and began to pour, paint, stain, and sponge his away across miles of canvas and raw cotton duck. My father, of a more practical bent, cleared a field and built us a house. His studio was the cellar, and there he sculpted and carved under the light of a single bulb. My father and I built a Roman fountain, pouring cement into a mold each night, adding it to the base the following day under the same sun that shone above Cleve’s ship as it sailed the Greek isles. A globetrotting cosmopolite, Cleve went to Carrera to choose marble dust at Michelangelo’s favorite quarry; my father stood in line at Caldor to score a Cabbage Patch doll for his grandchild. The artist and the foundryman took inspiration where they found it. They expressed their strength and eloquence with their hands- one with a papping plate, the other a paintbrush.
I stand in the Morrison Gallery under sleek track lighting in an open white space flooded with natural light. A small but enthusiastic claque admires Cleve’s abstract expressions of Palermo and Hawaii hung on smooth white surfaces, discretely numbered. The brochure says, No. 3 Summer Path, 1969, Acrylic on canvas, 82 x 79 inches, $55,000. I muse – it’s more money than my father made in a year.
My father and Cleve had rich lives well into their eighties. Theirs was a lucky encounter, unforeseen and random. One wore a scrim of soot, the other a suit of silk. But both left a body of work, the art of their lives.
Happy Birthday, Dad.
Euell Theophilus Gibbons: Punk Bunny
I have a rabbit that comes to forage. Pilfer, actually. I call him Euell Theophilus Gibbons. ETG, for short. Remember that guy with the red bandana who ate acorns because he liked them? And stalked wild asparagus from the Rio Grande to the Arctic Circle? Well, my ETG is head-over-heels in love with that same primal act of tasting. Tendrils, vines, and pods are his calendar- he doesn’t miss a sprout. His milieu is my garden plot where he noshes and frolics, the usual Cuniculus carryings-on. He bags satisfying snacks till the cows come home and, occasionally, a three-course meal. ETG is an epicure of sorts – plunging into the baby greens, snubbing the spicy arugula. He pays me in ‘cocoa puffs’- droppings, round and small. According to the Immutable Law of Critters, the old-stalk-and-pounce-act of the resident fox should be ETG’s undoing. (It sure makes my hair stand on end.) But this little guy is an expert at survival, buoyant with entitlement. He creates the impression that he can thrive without my help, comes and goes with reckless confidence, and eats like an offensive lineman at training camp. A Free-Range Rabbit, you might say. He knows what he is looking for, poring over rows of greens like a rare manuscript. So I plant a few more seeds and toss in a poem – in case he can read.
ETG steals in for a taste of lettuce and danger,
a marauder among frilly crinolines tipped with burgundy, ruby and chartreuse.
Our eyes make conversation as he nibbles at the leafy factory,
an assembly line of crunchy pods, sweet flowers and twining tendrils.
Nearby peppery cress and sassy mustard keep the long-eared rascal at bay.
I finger the Asian mizuna, its leaves like hardy warriors, ribbed and red-flushed,
that defend citrus bursts of lemony sorrel from the furry rogue.
Stalwart chicory and radicchio, too, deter the winsome invader
that hops among slender crescents of fennel.
Nearby curls of escarole border jaunty cut-and-come-again beds,
a tasty assortment for the trespasser’s decadent buffet.
A twitch and a flick ruffle the jeweled mosaic.
At once the bandit and I spy the brassica,
a heartless cabbage that prefers winter’s chill,
but is sweeter after the first frost.
Ah, dessert for the punk of the garden.
A Peasful Easy Feelin’
I kneel in my garden and watch lean shoots force their way out of naked brown dirt, tiny green sprouts with ridiculously small leaves. Such earnest stems, I admire them. They’re plucky little things, soon to flaunt showy blooms and loopy tendrils. And when the pods round out, the peas are ready – my kind of fast food. I first learned to love peas in my grandmother’s garden. In long rows running north-south, we planted them when the moon was new. To keep them in check, we cobbled together fences of butcher’s twine and birch branches. We tilled and sowed, watered and weeded, talked and listened, our backs bent to garden tasks. Grandma also planted some pretty sweet memories for me. And there’re all right here, in the peas. Even this last one.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Grandma and Zio Joe were born in the hills of Italy, three years and three days apart. On the farm in Avilgiano, they tilled earth and hoed crops until, as young adults, they crossed the Atlantic. They married and raised children; the land they worked grew rich and fertile. Eventually Grandma’s husband died, then Zio Joe’s wife. Their children moved away.
Now they are two, once again. Grandma lives up the hill from Zio Joe. He walks the worn familiar path to Lafayette Street each morning, to the garden they share. Dew on the leaves, the soil cool, they work together among the tints, textures and shapes of lush vegetables. When the earth warms to the touch, they move to the table by the grapevine. Bread, wine and cheese under the mulberry tree feed their hunger, companionship nourishes their souls. Talk before rest, they linger as the afternoon sun slants below the canopy of leaves; shadows mottle the table as the daylight ebbs. Zio Joe kisses Grandma and heads down the hill to his evening cigar. Grandma climbs the stairs, arms full of vegetables, to prepare a simple meal.
Each day is a mirror of the one that comes before, quiet and calm. Until the morning Grandma died in the peas, clutching the medal of the Virgin Mary pinned to her apron.
Zio Joe mourns for three days. And then, in his sleep, he just stops breathing.
It’s that time of year. Dirty nails, muddy knees, making manure “tea”, pounding stakes into the welcoming earth – in ready for that one glorious moment – that first tomato. It’s love at first bite. Dad and I shared this joy every July of his life. July 26, to be exact, on the feast of St. Ann. He’s gone now but when I pluck the fruit in my little patch, the juice dribbles down his chin. Here’s to you, Dad – I’ll see you in paradiso.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Homage to the Tomato: A Prose Poem
I thought about my father today because the tomatoes are coming into season. Heirlooms, the old ones with the past curled up inside. I love the heft of them, these fleshy female fruits that fit in your palm just so, that one heavy for its size, this one cleft in two, plump lobes so like a heart it almost beats in my hand. Who knows what their names are? Specials, he called them, from Italy. He carried their seeds wrapped in small squares of white linen to America, to the stew of rich earth on Hospital Hill. The ground mist rising, my father plants the seeds grown from what has been, nurtures them to what will be. Seeds from a distant place, paradiso, before. I can almost see him in those fabled fields, snow still thick on the peaks of the Apennines, listening to the tread of soldiers tramping through the village and through his head. But old nightmares settle into the soil, even the memory of war erased, as he plants in lines and curves like the graceful handwriting on creamy pages of old journals. I do the same, sow seeds like pearls, see stems rise like delicate pale sprites, dark green leaves curl, unfurl, forks of branches spread out and up. I watch bees pirouette and pollinate the clumsy blossoms -extravagantly yellow- and eye the red sloppy tomatoes, etched with brown scars that zigzag over healed splits like lightning flashes and, on stem ends, sport green bits like vestiges of dragonfly wings. The scent of them ribs the air, these caricatures on sprawling vines, infused with light, decadent crimson and gold, hidden in shy tangles and laced with dew. One calls me over. With a flush of pleasure, I oblige, pick it, and cut a piece. Warm from the blade, I taste its freckled cheerfulness, and decide to leave the poem, following the row across curves of continent and ocean that stretch all the way to paradiso.
originally published in the Italian Americana Journal