A TRIPTYCH PICTURING LUISA TETRAZZINI
- If My Husband Had Asked His Father About the Pictures
Funny how many there are among your papers,
pictures of Luisa poised for bel canto
on-stage at the Met, or on the backs
of postcards with typeset autographs
under regal headshots, like this one
where she’s overflowing, overwhelming,
invincible–apart from that curious tear
from the bridge of her nose across to the shoulder…
Someone put the two halves back
in the album, the seam between barely showing.
A handsome woman wasn’t she?
–even in this one taken at home,
with those dark, dangerous eyes,
and jet black bouffant–
a sumptuous, voluptuous bon vivant
in a formal gown somehow
perfect for the overgrown garden
where she romps with her glamour dogs,
Did you take some of these pictures?
Did you tear them?
You lived in Milan a while, waiting tables
in posh restaurants. Maybe you two traded stories
as you whipped up something special
in the larder for the bodacious coloratura
who couldn’t get to sleep?
Here is another view of her villa in Lugano
taken from the street–as if by someone
unwilling to leave. How long did you
live there with her, doing her
cooking? Was it a year, two years, three?
Our family never discussed those years,
especially not how many there were,
or all these pictures of Luisa,
not even the one inscribed
in her elegant Italian just to you,
the married captain of the waiters
at the Bellevue Stratford.
- If My Father-in-law Had Found Luisa’s Photographs Still in Their House
I remember these pictures. You made me
take them in the garden, dozens of you
and the dogs and the sun streaming through
the bougainvillea, different dresses for time of day.
I had been away so long from home
with nothing to send back to my wife
but postcards from Lugano picturing you.
Good Lord, Luisa, you lived too large
for life, too large for mine, at least–
not because you were old and fat,
as you loved to say, but because
you were still Tetrazzini,
which you also loved saying.
Did you know that when I read
about the San Francisco chef
you taught to make your pasta dish
with turkey instead, I laughed.
So much for the dish
you called our invention.
Leave it to you to make an opera
out of a late-night menu.
Did you have chefs in every town
with an opera house? Did every
flirtation in the kitchen end with
some starstruck lad serving you
After my first son was born
my wife saw you in newsreels
marrying for a third time. I recognized
the strain in your eyes, how tiring
it is forging a great love after so many
forgettable littler ones, like ours. I knew
he would leave you. But I hated picturing you
I still wonder why she kept all your photographs.
- If My Mother-in-law Had Explained the Photographs
They are mine. Don’t let it surprise you.
Remember that the Bellevue and I at the time
were both in our teens. Picture it,
all that marble and mahogany
mine to clean while the music swelled,
climbing the winding stair all the way up
from the ballroom on the second floor.
I was a Pennsylvania coal-country girl,
and I had never seen a view before
like my new city at sun-up from
the windows of Ethel Barrymore’s suite
on the nineteenth.
Maybe Madame Tetrazzini was frisky
for a woman of 50, but in the end he
came home to me again, didn’t he?
Meanwhile I had all that time,
between making beds and returning trays
of spent Moët, to gather names,
filling autograph pages every day, star-struck
among the rich and famous, sated on butterflies.
The first time Rachmaninoff played for me
while I fluffed his damask pillows and polished the glass,
John had just gone. I was 23,
a brand new wife in a fabulous city,
and my nights were free.
No films remain of Sergei playing
but I saw him practice his Rhapsody–
(more perfect than the sweet notes sung
by that cheeky diva to anyone).
My lover and I enjoyed it live
in December 1935, when our son was two.
Sometimes it’s best to forgive,
sometimes better just to say you did.
For every swirl in her absurd brocade
and every frond in those silly palms,
I have my own memories that correspond,
so when I see Luisa full of love and song,
I remember me.
Norma DaCrema is a veteran high-school teacher at an independent girls’ school in Pennsylvania. A second-year student in Arcadia’s low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing, she has published or has work forthcoming in The Lyric, Red Eft Review, The Night Heron Barks, Wingless Dreamer, The Closed Eye Open and Red Fern Review. She lives in Rosemont with her son, four indoor cats, and a fifth, Bad Randy, keeping watch out back.