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Contemporary Italian American Writing

Mary Ann Mannino: Three Poems

Keep the Wheat and Let the Chaff Lie | Home | Love

Mary Ann ManninoMary Ann Vigilante Mannino is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Temple University. She received her Masters Degree in Creative Writing in English and her Ph.D.in English from Temple University. She has published many short stories and poems in literary journals as well as various articles on Italian American women's writing. Her critical study: Revisionary Identites was published by Lang in 2000. In 2003, she edited a published: Breaking Open: Reflections on Italian American Women's Writing, from Purdue University Press, West Lafayette Indiana www.thepress.purdue.edu/. The book explores the deep connection between prominent Italian American women writers, their heritage and their writing. Among the writers included are Helen Barolini, Daniela Gioseffi, Sandra (Mortola) Gilbert, Diane di Prima, Mary Jo Bona, Mary Capello, Rita Ciresi, Louis DeSalvo, Rachel Guido de Vries, Maria Fama, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Edvige Giunta, Josephine Gattuso Hendin, and Carole Maso. Maninno also appears in Italian American Writers on New Jersey, 2003 from Rutgers University Press. www.rutgerspress.rutgers.edu/

Keep the Wheat and Let the Chaff Lie

There's an old pair of shoes
resting on the extension ladder
in my garage. A pair of black Florsheim
wing tips, now scuffed, worn down in the heel
white paint splattered across the tops,
the lining of one torn and curled, the other missing.
They've been nesting on that ladder since l980.
Twenty years I've cleaned that garage, spring and fall.
Forty times, I've returned them to their perch.
My papas shoes. Once proudly polished
preserved with metal shoe trees inside.

Papa never bought sneakers or casual clothes.
When his good clothes wore, he used them to
work around the house or yard. Once, he'd been
depression poor. Lost his house and sun-kissed fig tree.
Later, he spent money on beef roasts, schooling
for his children, books and bikes for my babies.
Throwing out old clothes, buying new ones for work
a frivolous waste.

These shoes he kept in my garage
along with frayed dress pants
a faded oxford shirt, a torn sweater.
He'd walk five blocks from his home to mine
impeccably dressed, not to embarrass me
before my neighbors. This gentle man
immigrant with broken tongue,
former farmer, friend of grape vines
olive trees, and sweet, black soil
displaced in a city.

He'd change clothes in my garage
sweep the leaves from my winding drive
nourish my azaleas with cow manure
weed my favorite flower beds
plant forsythia and hydrangeas he'd rooted
make my house and yard look loved,
richer than the houses of my neighbors
whose hired gardeners manicured their lawns.

No ones perfect.
My mother had stories.
My older brother too.
Mother used to say
You don't know your father.
Once, he ripped his custom-made
silk shirt in two because he lost a
button, and us with no money.
My older brother'd say about my parents
When I was a boy, they'd go at it.
Hed shake his head.

But I know none of that.
I remember him legally blind at 80
gently lifting tomato seedlings he'd grown
as if they were eggshells or waterford
placing them in rows in my garden
staking them with tree branches
he's stripped for the purpose
tying them with rags, he'd uniformly cut
to save us money.


Home

Heard three people speaking Italian
in the supermarket today
a man, his wife chatting
with a younger woman
in so casual a way.
I parked my cart near them
pretended to study canned vegetables
but I was listening
recalling the familiar rhythms of the words
watching hand gestures, facial shifts
the rise and fall of vowels
remembered sounds of something lost.

Home is the sound of people speaking
Italian rooted in the kitchen and
curling, like a vine, up the stairs
to my bedroom when Im falling asleep.
Mama, papa, Zia Nina, Zio Peppino,
Joe, Elena, Paulo, and Pete
drinking coffee, iced-tea, anisette
eating Sara Lee pound cake and homemade pizzelles.
Cigar smoke and laughter looping toward
the kitchen light in gauzy ribbons.
Cards shuffled, nuts cracked open.

Those laughing grown-up voices
that said to me
No matter who has died or
what has happened or
where we are going
the family will survive.
Marianna, you will do more than survive
You will rise above your destiny
soar beyond your fortune
will grab fate by the hair
hold it down, kick it
until it agrees to
smile on you with blessings.

Love

God lets people slide
just like Mr. Cerino
at the corner store.
Kids, he says
handing us a candy bar
when we have twenty-eight
pennies instead of thirty.

Copyright © 2000 by Mary Ann Mannino.With acknowledgement to Paterson Literary Review

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