Honor Thy Father’s Broken English
“On my second day of work Cugino no comme
With me, so when the Greygound stoppe at the terminale I don’t know
How to get to da fahtory. I no speak English, not one word,
And can’t ask the bus driva.
All I rememba is da little round hille coming out of nowhere,
You know, El Cerrito,
So I walk all the way to the top,
Then all the way down, and say to myself
“Caru Gianni eccuti in mezzu a sti sipali
(Dear Gianni, here you are in the sticks)
Scordatu e sconosciutu
(forsaken and a stranger)
Comu fazzu a trovari a strata
(How can I find the way).”
Lady, lady, wheresa Jacuzzi, fattoria Jacuzzi
Ah, by da wata, no by mountain – thank you, thank you!
So I get there three hours late, and hear the paesani laugh at me
‘cause I’m no good at cutting pipes..
John, they call me. Gianni is too hard.”
The man who loved luvare, olive groves
The best olive crop assessor in the county,
People would beg him to tell them how many sarme their trees
Were bearing so the middle men wouldn’t cheat them.
Begged him to please come and show them
How to do graftings, innesti
During the war
He improvised as a butcher
A black marketeer of olive oil
Rode the rooftops of trains directed to Naples
(Nearly smashed his head as they approached a tunnel)
Even explored the pampas in search for a better life
He still remembered the poems they taught him in 3rd grade
And could tell the best Giufa stories
With quite a sense of timing.
This man who under “l’albero della scienza”
The giant sycamore tree,
By his brother’s house, by the station, would meet
With l’omini the men, to play cards
And talk philosophy, what is right
And what is wrong
Debates went on for hours
Leaving angry wives and untended duties
In their wake.
Was now the laughingstock of the paesani e dell’ americani
‘Cause he couldn’t speak good English
Nor could he hold the cutters properly.
Over nine years he learned
How to take the Greyhound
How to line up the pipes perfectly.
Kids still mocked his broken English.
One time his little girl drove
A bunch of jeering ones away
And he was grateful.
Then she grew up to be embarrassed
Of his old age, his darkness
Eyes bloodshot from malaria
His feeble attempts
To enforce the Patriarchy
In a house full of strong women
Were doomed to fail.
Decades later when a branch
He had yanked down with his cane to pick a fig
Ricocheted, tore his eye
That same daughter didn’t deem it
Important enough to go
To the hospital
But her two year old Danish/Italian/American child
At least learned to say nonno and bastone
When the blood in his veins
Wouldn’t carry oxygen any more
And he lay there spent, like a withering olive branch
Embarrassed because he needed to be helped to the bathroom
To distract him she thought no better
than to talk to him about her latest political endeavor.
His parting question:
“What do I care about that?”
Befitting a lack of communication
That lasted forty year.
Our spirits travel now through different planes
At long, way belated, last
I ask you your benedizione,
Just like you asked your own mother
On that Christmas card you sent her in Calabria
From the California in 1953
She kept it for twenty years
I found it one of those interminable summer vacation
Filled with pasta e vajianedda
Swims at the Tonnara
Arguments with cousins
It lay in her bottom drawer,
With the important papers
She, who never went to school,
Couldn’t read it.
But when she received it
She knew immediately what was asked of her
Didn’t worry about deciphering
Chicken scratches on paper
Papà, she granted you benedizione
No questions asked.