by Lucy Cortese

Sepia-colored images on the wrinkled photo
dissolve the faded smiles and blurred features of my parents
proud Italian immigrants standing in front of their new establishment
first-time restaurant owners

Garden Spaghetti House the sign above their heads in bold letters
Garden literal translation for Giardino a word that stumbles and mumbles
euphemism bastardization of our family name
from the lips of locals, i.e. yokels

Ya’ll talk funny, they often chide and I endure the mispronunciation of that
surname by my 4th grade teacher the entire school year

Foreigners in a foreign land divided by words and ways clothes and customs
Italian, not Eye-tal-yun? Spaghetti, not Pas-ketti? What the heck is a Pizza?
Would the real strange-speaking people please stand up!

Our family is a garden of bright, fragrant flowers variegated vegetation and a few
blooming idiots hiding in a closet somewhere

My younger brother the wandering vine meanders around the planted rows
My big brother grows straight and strong rooted in old-country ways
My sister the rose that smells sweetest sprouts thorns when picked
My father the tough cactus prickly to touch moist and succulent inside

Self-appointed gardener my mother is gone
Who will tend Il Giardino our family garden now?
Who will plant fertilize and prune the errant leaves that grow awry?
Who will gather us to arrange a brilliant bouquet for the Thanksgiving feast?

Not I
I am the tenacious weed who sprouts and re-sprouts
I am not my brothers’ or for that matter sister’s keeper
wherever I find fertile soil

The plot is vacant
The ground is barren
The earth is dry
Nothing sprouts but memories
sepia-colored and mispronounced


Artist: Lucy Cortese

Genre: Poetry

Bio: Since retirement my avocation is my vocation, freelance writing. Technical writing of past professional life evolved into creative genres of poetry, short fiction and memoir. I want to invoke the spectrum of human emotions in my reader: longing to laughter, pain to promise, despair to discernment. Living my mission statement, Each 1, Teach 1, I am a mother, grandmother and lifelong educator.


Piece Description: This is memoir and poetry combined in a reflection of growing up with an Italian American family.

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