Signifyin Woman / An Italian American Jazz Poem
Rumor has it I was born a gypsy on the streets of Palermo, Sicily
Then again some say, it was on the bay of Naples
while others claim I was made in New Orleans
under one of those giant trees
with roots that go down so deep, they reach into the earth’s center
Trees with arms so long, high and wide,
they reach out and grab you
like the Great Mama!
The dark bark betrays our true origins.
Straight from the core I’ve come
with silvery lips, wide hips, menstrual blood and Oracular Visions.
Part witch and bewitching, I refused to be from one place or one race.
I travel in any skins, many skins,
black like the panther, spotted as a leopard.
I am red tongues licking fire, a bold soul, an old soul
backyard worshipper, gypsy wanderer
Sicilian queen, a dewdrop on mint green
pure, liquid mercury, the sharp in turns, the quick in glances
the dirt in between cracks of concrete. I am the wavelength Green
a fish-bellied, crab-crawling, moon-child, secret reptile
Virgin & Mean… the final curtain call before the Great Silencing
Madonna—puttana, the funneling that germinates Seeeeedzzzz.
The veiling revealed!
Unsettling, rumbling, pulsating, earthquaking rumblings
I shake the earth when I walk and sway my hips
I am an instrument of the divine…
“mercy, mercy, mercy /me /” mus i cal gal
Louis Prima’s sista, an Italian-American Signifyin’ Woman!
Mamma Mia Rose
(to the tune by Abba)
for my mother Rosa Marchesani Calio
If your name wasn’t Rosa later changed to Rose and Rosie
I would begin by calling you terribly modern Milly.
You were ahead of your day Rosie girl
and I wish I knew you… when
you were a Brooklyn Roverette
with your best friend, Marian Sabella, Damato then.
Two beauties: one dark, one blonde.
You were named “The Brenda Frasier of Lafayette High”
debutant of the Daisy Chain
I imagine your brown, sparkling eyes
aglow with hope and anticipation
head filled with dreams and wannabes
a school teacher, Grant Hulon Wilson’s girl
you whispered to me during one of your many stories
of the road not taken, of that great unknown
you so hungered for.
What were you thinking? You, an Italian girl
with a very strict Papa, Rocco,
who wanted you and your sister Annie to learn to sew
“Oh, oh no!” …You both exclaimed and became secretaries.
Papa scoffed at daisy chains and girlish dreams
and kept you properly indoors until you married
handsome, blue-eyed Joe at age 19
against his wishes.
Joe left you for a war in Europe with that strange,
foreign lady his widowed Queen Mother-in-law
who spoke Sicilian and seemed to tower above you both
with an incredible hold that an Italian mother
can have on her one and only Son.
No escaping your Italian soul
like Rocco’s rule, it would help give shape to you.
I think of Langston Hughes,
“What happens to a dream deferred?”
Perhaps it passes to her daughters.
I knew you in the warm darkness
before the first rays of light.
You were my first tastes, smells,
sweeter than roses, my extension into the larger world.
My protection, and witness to my first wobbly steps
creator of my first meals
the one who gave me the dreaming powers
and my first knowledge of love
You dressed me in your smiles, warm and generous
pampered me with pretty things
as well as many thoughts and opinions,
and when that wasn’t enough
you let me play
with your big red snake- skin high heels
long silk dresses and brushes and combs
that became the dress- up tools of my imagination.
I wanted to be like you, so beau-ti-ful
my summer rose, tried my best to copy your each and every pose.
Let you comb my hair, even when it hurt
and send me away to a horrid parochial school, though I missed you.
You were present at my first recitals
applauding my smallest efforts as Great Art
nursed me whenever I was ill, cheered me on when
I was down. So too did you discipline my temper
offering me a guidance I did not want.
Patiently you watched me learn and suffer
as I grew up and left you.
You gave up much of your freedom, many dreams
and a big part of your income
to treat me to the best life.
I hope you can feel the love within me
for the woman who gave me
the gift of Fire!
Louisa Calio is an internationally published, award-winning author and photo artist. She has won: 1st Prize for “Bhari” fr. City of Messina, Sicily (2013), 1st Prize for “Signifyin Woman,” “Il Parnasso,” Canicatti, Sicily (2017). Finalist for Poet Laureate, Nassau County, honored at Columbia Barnard as a Feminist Who Changed America (1973-75). The Director of Poet’s Piazza at Hofstra University for 12 years, she was a founding member and first Executive Director of City Spirit Artists, Inc. New Haven, Ct. Her latest book, Journey to the Heart Waters was published by Legas Press (2014). Find her on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisa_Calio