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Contemporary Italian American Writing

Three Poems by John Ciardi (1916-1986)

Nona Domenica Garnaro | The Catalpa | True or False

John Ciardi remains the finest translator of Dante to American English who ever attempted the difficult task of bringing Dante into the language. Read about the great American poet who made a million-dollar career from bringing poetry to Americans on television and radio. Click here to an Essay on Ciardi by his award-winning biographer, Edward Cifelli, author of John Ciardi: A Biography. Cifelli has also edited The Collected Poems of John Ciardi, and Selected Letters of John Ciardi. (Arkansas U. Press.)

Nona Domenica Garnaro


Nona Domenica Garnaro sits in the sun
on the step of her house in Calabria.
There are seven men and four women in the village
who call her Mama, and the orange trees
fountain their blooms down all the hill and valley.
No one can see more memory from this step
than Nona Domenica. When she folds her hands
in her lap they fall together
like two Christs fallen from a driftwood shrine.
All their weathers are twisted into them.
There is that art in them that will not be carved
but can only be waited for. These hands are not
sad nor happy nor tired nor strong. They are simply
complete. They lie still in her lap
and she sits waiting quietly in the sun
for what will happen, as for example, a petal
may blow down on the wind and lie across
both of her thumbs, and she look down at it.

The Catalpa


The catalpa’s white week is ending there
in its corner of my yard. It has its arms full
of its own flowering now, but the least air
spins off a petal and a breeze lets fall
whole coronations. There is not much more
of what this is. Is every gladness quick?
That tree‚s a nuisance, really. Long before
the summer‚s out, its beans, long as a stick,
will start to shed. And every year one limb
cracks without falling off and hangs there dead
till I get up and risk my neck to trim
what it knows how to lose but not to shed.
I keep it only for this one white pass.
The end of June‚s its garden; July, its Fall;
all else, the world remembering what it was
in the seven days of its visible miracle.
What should I keep if averages were all?

True or False


Real emeralds are worth more than synthetics
but the only way to tell one from the other
is to heat them to a stated temperature,
then tap. When it's done properly
the real one shatters.
I have no emeralds.
I was told this about them by a woman
who said someone had told her: True or false,
I have held my own palmful of bright breakage
from a truth too late. I know the principle.

Copyright © 1960-2002 by The Literary Estate of John Ciardi. All rights, including electronic, are reserved by The Literary Estate of John Ciardi. These poems cannot be reprinted without expressed permission of the estate owners.

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