It’s the fifth Friday, time for a surprise, a different topic, a break from the usual routine. I wrote this poem in 2002. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
InL’Aquila, in a square near the university
The students gather, drink caffe corretto,
And deal endless hands of scopa.
Late at night they stumble home in clusters,
One by one left here and there, until the mountain night claims silence
Briefly, then the morning traffic starts to rumble here and there.
Zio Guido’s dark wine leaves me dizzy,
With a morning headache, and I know no more
Than I did about why one brother went toArgentina
And the other toNew York. Italian reasons,
Like a rain out of season, flowing through the dusty streets
And out of sight between the ancient stones.
My uncle shows me how to play the kings and take the sevens.
Between supper of pizzetta and the strategy of scopa,
He tells me how he brought the sheep
Down the backside of the Maiella in the fall
When he was twelve.
That year sticks in his memory,
Because in the end, at the bottom of the mountain,
He found his mother weeping. The brothers
Who had seen him off in April
Were gone. Zio Guido shares the truth
As he knew it. I tell him my father’s truth
As I know it. They aren’t the same, like two sides
Of a coin, whose value we don’t yet know.
In his car we speed through valleys and tunnels
To the near-abandoned village of his youth
As if showing me the very house will prove him right.
Parked outside the crumbling walls, Zio Guido stares hard,
Reliving a scene like a silent movie. “You see?” he asks.
I see his pain, a pain that masked
The hopes and dreams for which his brothers left him
With their bewildered mother, angry father.
Driving home he grips my arm,
And reclaims, in some small measure, the brother of his youth.
A tear runs to his mustache for shelter. I pat his hairy hand.
My father told me stories of little brother Guido, the shepherd boy.
He had his reasons.
Rain has wet the dusty road toL’Aquila.
The city lights shine in clearer air.
by Sandy Frykholm, 2002.