by Marc Alan Di Martino
I learned your language to unbury you
to feel again your mossy Roman beard
beneath my fingers, to be thunderstruck
again by your accent. You were straniero,
never americano, held on to your green card
like any immigrant with an ounce of hope.
Phone calls were costly then, AT&T
selling you a can and string to unspool
across the Atlantic Ocean. Once a month
you’d dial up your sisters in sammpietro,
vernacular for the neighborhood in Rome
where you grew up, no more than a stone’s throw
from Michelangelo’s copper cuppolone.
It was still Oltretevere back then,
‘beyond the Tiber,’ now prime real estate,
streets clogged like arteries with tourist buses
craning to see the pope play peek-a-boo.
As kids we’d boomerang indifferently
beneath the saint-studded cornice, feed
the horses stalled on sizzling cobblestones
black as iron ore, leapfrog the piazza
shaped like a keyhole, chase fattened pigeons
around the Egyptian obelisk as fountains
exploded at twilight. We’d snack supplì
at kiosks, mozzarella chewing gum
hanging from our lips, slurp grattachecca –
a Roman snowball – mint and tamarind
our favorite flavors when the weather got hot.
You told us tales of how as a young man
you’d leap from the Ponte Sant’Angelo
into that ancient Roman waterway
which ferried Cleopatra to her lovers,
& under whose silt history lies still.
You’d navigate us through your marble world
of alleyways and statuary, halting
every fifty yards to chitchat. Chiacchierare.
We’d lick our ice cream cones and roll our eyes
as you talked politics or calcio with men
you’d never met. It seemed you knew everyone
everywhere you went, possessed passports
permitting you to redraw boundaries
of circumspection. (I am not gifted
that way. Smalltalk is work for me. Pace.)
You’d treat us to a poisoned apple –
mela stregata – at your favorite haunt
along the river, mural of Snow White
beaming over the travertine countertop.
Castel Sant’Angelo with its eerie cells
marked our home turf. Heirs to history,
our spindly American bodies catalogued
each twist and alcove in Rome’s wrenching gut.
The moment we caught sight of the rainstreaked dome
the final stretch was on us. We’d walk fast
weaving Bernini’s dreaming columns, lost
inside temporal power’s broken skull
until we reached familiar ochre walls.
Five flights up, our aunts prepared a feast,
the television blasting evening news,
staccato jargon to our ears, the first
and only time we were a family –
extended, patriarchal, skin-on-bone.
Already you’d sown the seeds of divorce
but wouldn’t reveal it for another year.
Your cock – that well-fed American bird –
was busy in another henhouse. Rome
wouldn’t have punished you as haphazardly
as our mother did when she threw you out.
After all, a man must take a lover
to keep his marriage happy – wasn’t that
the pragmatic guiding philosophy
of your continental friends? Marriage
was not for you, not for either of you,
although you’d both repeat the misadventure
until it murdered you. Having finally set
foot, like an explorer, on stable ground
heart attack shifted the tectonic plates
of our lives, sealed your misdirected fate
senza cerimonie, as you would say.
The coroner pronounced you DOA.
The funeral was scheduled for a Friday
in February, the earth rock hard outside
the stony chapel. The pastor said his piece,
he who had only known you for a year.
We sealed you in the mineral earth you loved.
Marc Alan Di Martino is a Pushcart-nominated poet and author of the collection Unburial (Kelsay Books, 2019). His work appears in Rattle, Baltimore Review, Palette Poetry, Rivet Journal and many other journals, as well as the anthologies Unsheathed: 24 Contemporary Poets Take Up the Knife (Kingly Street Press, 2019) and What Remains: The Many Ways We Say Goodbye (Gelles-Cole, 2019). He currently lives in Perugia, Italy with his family.