1. 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.

  1. 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
in Switzerland?

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.

  1. 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.