Honor Thy Father’s Broken English


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.

This man

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

Country ways.


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.