Soundtrack to My Father’s Life
He loved Gershwin, opera, big bands, marching bands.
My father studied violin at the Bryn Mawr Conservatory
of Music, a school started by his oldest brother, a lofty ambition
for the son of Italian immigrants and one of eight children.
The house felt barren after he left.
Music no longer sprang from corners of rooms.
I remember his favourites — “Yellow Bird,”
“Mood Indigo,” “Bye-Bye Blackbird.”
I salvaged his vinyl collection from the basement, making space
above ground for his 45s from Decca Records, a 78 of
Liberace’s “Dark Eyes,” a Bing Crosby tune “When the Moon
Comes Over Madison Square.” Today I live near that park.
Paper Boy’s Daughter
The crumpling of newspapers
still echoes. My father reading
The Philadelphia Inquirer with morning coffee.
Flipping pages of the evening Bulletin
before dozing in his chair. Only seven,
he rose at five a.m. to deliver papers.
Honoured work from then on.
His hardware store staff enjoyed two
daily papers on the half-hour lunch break.
The town news agency, once abuzz with traffic,
now sits off the pike’s centre. Alone in the store,
I search for a recent byline, still hold reverent
the printed page and worlds it opened.
Lessons Learned from Moths
I learned the art of detachment
from a destructive pest
romanticised by poets
whose origins go back millions of years.
Celestial nomads that feast on
leather, wool, silk, felt
and thrive on night
taught me to let go of longing —
animals stuffed with memories,
dolls from a distant dad
an embroidered coat from Gimbels.
When I returned to my late mother’s home,
white larvae covered elegant outfits.
Soles fell from Ferragamo pumps.
Moths cunningly coached me to occupy now,
not dwell in closets lined with past lives
nor focus on nostalgia
tarnished by death and deceit.
“Madison Square in the Afternoon”, c. 1910, by Paul Cornoyer
Square white goatee and
long blue tunic swinging,
Pharoah Sanders prances on stage,
wishing us peace and love.
He reverently clasps his horn and
serenades a packed house at Birdland.
No Twitter handles at play,
Tony Hewitt sings about
going steady, takes us
back to a gentler time.
In his seventy-fifth year,
Sanders is on fire and the crowd,
packed with musicians, responds.
Growing up, I never heard the words racist, hate, give me, welfare.
They said the words proud, American, school, work, hard.
My Italian grandparents came legally, hungrily, unresentful of starting afresh.
No work — no benefit. America became home.
They never returned, only sent money to family during the War.
One couple raised eight children — all five sons became entrepreneurs.
Another couple raised three — the son became a pharmacist, dentist and doctor;
the college-educated daughters a dental hygienist and English professor.
A second-generation American, I left, emigrated to the “old country,”
enchanted by Europe. I met their brothers, sisters, cousins — experienced roots.
But felt the tug of superior freedom, the bounty of hard work, neighbourhoods.
Landed in New York City, lured by the mix of peoples, opportunity, the climb.
I treasured the swirl of cultures and civic connection. Dense quarters.
Fast forward twenty years — the elites denigrate borders, my race, traditional values.
They plug giveaways, laugh at walls, shun laws, scorn true liberty.
The West is losing its religion, the faith a civilisation needs to survive.
The author’s father at the Grand Canyon, c. 1990 (©AMY BARONE)
End of the Road
When the open road beckoned,
we connected with the land,
at a teepee flanked by the Rio Grande
or a picnic spot with slanted roof fringed
by Monument Valley’s orange mountains.
Landmarks for memories, roadside rest stops
opened windows onto cultures.
The middle of the road vibrated with colour.
We relished time eating slow food or getting lost
in a vista. As the journey ends for these highway icons,
I salute the red, white and blue hangar in Flower Mound, Texas
where travellers, not airplanes, made a last stop in the summer of ’14.
First Italian Steps
Umbria spoke to me in patch upon patch
of emerald fields, soft dusk light,
a mystical aura set off by flickering candles
abutting Gubbio’s Duomo at Easter.
Umbria spoke to an expat on pilgrimage,
who took her first Italian steps in Assisi,
chaperoned by nuns, a 15-year-old ingénue,
unaware the region marked holy ground.
Umbria and its lush green cultivate lentils
in Castelluccio, onions in Cannara,
Sagrantino di Montefalco wine,
and for centuries produced the most
saints per square mile in Italy:
St Rita of Cascia, St Benedict of Norcia,
St Bernard of Fossa, St Jacopone of Todi
and St Francis of Assisi, whose peace prayer
graces the card we gave out at my father’s funeral.
Author of the first Italian poem, The Canticle of Creatures,
Francis reverently addressed all protagonists of nature,
spoke to birds, found solace in poverty and writing.
I trace his path in Umbria and beyond.
Take up the pen and consecrate nature
and place in brilliant shades of green.