The house inside me
empties itself of furniture
each time someone dies —
the woman who wrote me long letters
on blue air mail paper, the fellow flutist
in the woodwind section whose breath sailed
through silver one last time, and the friend
with whom I rode the weekend train city-bound,
the one who loaned me political magazines
and wore a peace sign around her neck.
One by one they negotiate
their exits, migrating to some castle
in the sky, leaving behind a palpable
Alone, I inhabit myself, my own
theatre of the absurd, a ruined museum,
the last drop from a leaky faucet, louder than
the silence of white noise, or the persistent call
of the pigeon living outside my window,
endlessly iterating Who? Who? Who?
The Dying of the Light
I am simply not ready
for winter. Usually I tire
of summer’s weeding and watering.
The heat wave in October
prematurely wilts the brave hydrangeas,
browns the needles of forlorn pines,
and leaves me breathless and sweating,
a withered near-corpse of myself.
But this year my body dreads
the heaviness of coats, the smell
of wool wet from melting sleet,
the sight of barren maples once garbed
in glorious green, then crimson
with the false felicity of autumn.
Now the curse of frigid wind
roars off the lake, unendurable.
I no longer hunger for the manna
of blown snow, that blessing
from the grey pearlescent sky,
or seek the long blindness of the solstice,
nature’s bones creaking like mine,
the deadly calm of drifted white.
At the top of the stairs
she would wait, the cataracts
in her eyes fading into the darkness
of operatic sighs and embraces
to welcome us, her grandchildren
dressed in taffeta for Christmas.
After long hours at the table,
lingering over hand-cut cavatelli,
we would feel our way out,
down the dark steps in the tiled
hallway, clutching packages
of provisions thrust into our hands —
tinned olive oil and jarred figs from the tree
sprouting through backyard cement. Then,
we would hear the reprise, in broken English:
Why you no come-a see me? Me die, me die!
A spectral landscape would open up
like the gates of purgatory, always drama
rising like smoke, leaving embers of guilt
glowing into the future.
Now an old woman, I wonder if one day
I will stand at the top of the stairs, trying
to avoid theatrics as the young ones leave.
They want only to escape the suffocating
cloud of melancholia, their cell phones
imaging friends in cyberspace laughing
their lovely invisible joy, and I, waving,
barely able to navigate the ancient map
of Nonna’s loneliness.
Who were those Jersey kids
who had another house
“down the shore,” where
sand and sun and summer
swept them into an ocean
of sea shells and towels,
sunglasses and tanning oil
that seemed to scent
their bronze bodies
for the rest of the year?
as I was growing up, were
the neighbors with boats
in their driveways, attached
to vehicles the size of our house,
bound for weekend lakes
or moored in some scenic harbor
where a pink sunset was always visible,
dripping strawberry light
from the evening sky.
Every summer I thought of this
as I typed mailing labels
in the cinderblock sweatshop
where popular children’s magazines
were printed, where salt pills
were distributed when the New York office
gave permission, as workers
began to pass out from the heat.
I knew these awakenings
were just temporary, only three
short weeks visiting a newborn nephew
a few blocks away from my sparse rental,
after transatlantic travel. The mornings
brought a verdant splash on the half-shuttered
balcony visible from my sofa-bed.
That September in Madrid
I woke up each day
when dawn painted the sky
with innocence, clouds daubed
with patches of leaves, their
fringed silhouettes whispering,
soft as a baby’s skin,
Hold me, hold me,
as if one could grasp the etched
greenery of a tree rooted two stories down
in a patch of earth interrupting cement,
as if the emerging sun
were embraceable over apartments
holding the city together with brick
Turning my head to the light,
I thought of the closeness of an infant,
sheer felicity, knowing how quickly this joy
would disappear like water or air, conscious
that minutes cannot be held in the heart,
defying the physics of time, that babies age,
that human longing succumbs to the clock’s
inevitable pace, the cruelest brevity.
Donna Pucciani, a Chicago-based writer, has published poetry worldwide in Shi Chao POetry, Poetry Salzburg, Voice and Verse, ParisLitUp, Journal of Italian Translation, and other journals. Her seventh and most recent book of poetry is EDGES.