In class at Università degli Studi Suor Orsola Benincasa, in Napoli,
I read a poem about my mother showing me Heaven
one night in a dream, and in my dream, Heaven
was as it is in Renaissance paintings. Exactly like that.
“Dopo Mamma era morto,” I told the students,
“quando pensavo – dov’è l’alma di mia Mamma,
ho sognato che paradiso è exactamente cosi nella pintura Rinascimento.”
—when I dream of my mother in Heaven, where do I locate her?
In a renaissance painting. In Italy.
Not in the Bronx. Not in America.
In the brushstrokes of the Renaissance.
In Italia. In Italia. The madreterra.
Mom in Heaven—
is in an Italian painting.
After I articulate this to the students, it strikes me,
and I repeat it to myself as plainly as possible to realize
what it is my mind is doing. Making Italy Heaven.
Taking the Renaissance paintings literally, angels and all.
As I talk with the students I realize how amazing this is
that for me now, my mother is inside a Renaissance painting.
Her spirit swirls in the pinks and blues and golds
of the Renaissance sky. Where else would she be
for an Italian-American?
I realize why all these paintings
are up so high in churches in capellas, in apses, cupolas.
You have to look up.
You have to bend your neck all the way back
and feel that disorientation.
You have to look up
into the vortex of the dome
It is practice
for your own ascent.
RACHEL’S BLUE ONION LINOLEUM FLOOR 1975-2018
In the last year of her life my mother marveled at her floor: “Imagine? This linoleum lasted all these years. Never even wore down or pulled up.” I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant. She knew lots that I didn’t. Blue onion motif on the white diamond squares, Mom loved blue onion, hunted for plates, cups, candle holders, bric-a-brac, whatever she could find. When I was sixteen in 1979 dusting place settings for $2.60 an hour in Roadside China, I saved my weekly envelope and bought her a complete set for four. And in San Francisco in 1986 as a bike messenger, I found three blue onion china canisters in the Salvation Army on Valencia Street in the Mission, and carried them all the way home to 1 Winchester without breaking one. This was our safe house—1 Winchester—like we had our own cavalry and we did—Mom’s front door, to shut out threats, closed and triple locked. In 1975 I was thirteen when the men ironed this linoleum down in one sheet on the kitchen and foyer floors with their big heavy cylindrical roller they ironed the linoleum flat. In 2016 after Mom died, this floor wore out in the middle. The floor chipped and kicked up under my feet, under the chair legs, it split with a cracking sound like bones. The motif separated from the base and left a fossil imprint like ghost lace. After a year and a half of this, I finally pulled the whole thing up. But I couldn’t throw it out. I flicked the blade tongue out on my grey box cutter and cut the 100 square foot floor into six inch diamonds. In your hand is one of those diamonds. This once in a lifetime floor. It is my mother’s floor I stand on. I always will. A once in a lifetime floor.
Annie Lanzillotto is a writer, poet, director, performance artist, singer and songwriter. She is the author of the Lamda Literary Award finalist L IS FOR LION: AN ITALIAN BRONX BUTCH FREEDOM MEMOIR (SUNY Press 2913) and a book of poetry SCHISTSONG (Bordighera Press, 2013).