September 23, 2022 by The Citron Review
by Maura Alia Badji
For Alfonso Congilosi & Carmine Starnino
A genius of the curse, epithet spat in fury or mumbled—
Porco Diablo! The devil’s a pig! Porco Dio! And the worst—
Papa wove anger into sound, a vessel meant to deliver wound or prod. His everyday curse, a proud soliloquy was best—
Pig misery! Miserable pigs! Take your pick. Papa painted beautiful curses, though not as lovely as the stained-glass lamps, jewel-studded metal he once wrought.
Povera Me! — Poor me—Povera L’America!
Papa mutters, rubs his bald head, sips from a battered mug; its tan glaze drips over the edge like spilled cream. He doesn’t eat till noon, takes his coffee black and sweet.
Ingrates. It’s not me or Nana he’s cursing; it’s the whole country—L’America stuck in his throat, a stray sardine spine. When Nixon looms on TV, Papa can barely contain his glee:
Your President! No Mine!
Your country, no mine! But Papa, you live here! He cackles that sardonic Sicilian laugh, mocking and sad at once. Like making a bad wish you know you won’t get. But Papa, you live here. Why don’t you speak more English yet?
I keep my country in my mouth, you see?
Later he walks me to the park, putters beside me on gouty feet. Smokes three Laredos, My Pleasure, he says. Hand-rolled cigarettes. At lunch a pint of Genny, his Buffalo beer.
I wonder what she do, the Mother of the Dog? Ah, maybe she play tennis?
He muses on a son’s American wife, juts out his bottom lip— Ah, this life…I pull him to the zoo, away from the aunt who scares me—her cruel smile and her dogs who nip.
Ah, that’s a no good. She respecta the dog a more than a husband.
He squints, snips apart small plastic bags of peanuts, sickle-shape knife gripped by battered thumb. When he cuts, the half-moon blade winks in the sun.
La faccia bedda…
Beautiful face, he calls me. Says it so often I don’t listen but tuck it somewhere for safe-keeping. Like his knife—last of his tinsmith tools. Pocketed memory echoes
Tiffany lamps, heavy soup ladles, stained glass panels, boot-leg stills. I covet the half-moon blade he uses to cut everything, even pills. Papa what do you call that knife you made?
But I’ll forget, until I’m thirty-six, when we’re years apart. Until the day I pick out that rootless word like a silver ticket glinting in a poem written by someone I’ll want to claim as lost kin. Old word lost, and found, in a new world. Rongetta—what you cut, you cut towards yourself; you cut towards your heart.
Maura Alia Badji is a poet/writer/editor/ESL teacher, and Social Services worker. Her writing has appeared in Rogue Agent. The Skinny Poetry Review, Cobalt, Aeolian Harp, The Delaware Review, Pirene’s Fountain, The Buffalo News, The Phoenix Soul, The Good Men Project, This City Is a Poem, Barely South Review, and other publications. She is a Poetry Editor for The Deaf Poets Society; she identifies as multiracial/disabled/queer. Badji lives in Virginia Beach with her musician son, Ibrahim.