COSMA e DAMIANO
To speak of one is to speak of the other
brother, in most versions of the story,
they were twin doctors, but in other versions,
the elder was the doctor and the younger was an apothecary,
though it’s widely accepted that neither was a father but both were
known as anargyroi, the ones without silver, refusing to charge their patients.
My uncle, the bachelor Gemini, crowded his pinewood closet
with glass bottles of tranquilizers, vitamins, countless vials, Nonna would cry
to the neighbors, her daughters-in-law, anyone who might explain why
he took so many pills but years after she died, he would be the closest thing I had to a patient
father who prayed before a cracked glass framed photo of Cosma e Damiano,
i Santi Medici, every day, and all the time said I looked just like his mother
so whenever I fell ill, he balanced chicken soup in one of her cracked bowls
with a faded pink rose, and whenever I feared, he blotted my tears with his handkerchief
and every day after school, he waited for me outside and the only hand he ever raised
was the one to pledge that he was, and always would be, my guardian
like the Archangel Michael on the medallion he wore close to his heart tangled
with a golden horn against the evil eye and a golden cross with his initials carved
in cursive he swore I would become a lawyer someday and why not a Supreme Court justice
like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
My father, whose brass Aquarius keychain I carried for years until it broke off,
Diligent, Mature, Innovative
spent hours with his magnifying glass pressed
to the black and white pages of the Daily News instead of teaching me
scopa like my uncle but had a penchant for carrying extra
Band Aids in his pockets and there was the story of the woman
whose arm stopped bleeding on the 7-train ride to the hospital because he gave
her the whole stash and his own handkerchief which he let her keep. Such a good man
she chanted all the way to Elmhurst and as far as we know she made it. Those days he wore
a navy trench coat like a judge or a stock broker everyone might have thought
he was a hero to his daughter but I barely saw him when he still worked
at the piano factory but watched him collapse when it moved to Hartford
and we moved out of the apartment where my grandparents died and my uncle
remained. I wouldn’t understand till much later what it means to lose
the only places and people you’ve ever called home. And the rage
that festered in the depths of his brain that couldn’t formulate the right words
Unfulfilled, Dejected, Unearthed
erupted like Vesuvius through the rooms of the new apartment.
Afterwards he’d lie in bed till his eyelids fell and awake only for dinner,
then more sleep.
My uncle’s voice like broken Heineken
glass ricocheting off the walls of the underpass at Jacob Riis Beach
with that iron echo reverberating
Brains. You got brains.
I’m your guardian.
You’re gonna be a Supreme Court Justice.
You look just like grandma. All the boys wanted to marry her
but she chose grandpa because she liked his hands
and his curly red hair. He had a temper.
My father’s voice a broken siren
So goddamned stupid
and you went to college
aggravation every fuckin’ day
you don’t listen
I’m your father
and you cover her
she don’t listen
I’m her father.
In the end, my father perished at his nursing home during the pandemic,
silent and the best I could do was to send him a photo collage letter
that would have been taped to my uncle’s glass-framed
photo of Cosma e Damiano.
Nonna had the foresight to have her sons buried in a dual plot at Pinelawn,
the only real estate she ever purchased in America. The soil wet beneath the grass
cradles my father and guardian and the challenge for the balance of my days
is to know whose voice to heed.
Stephanie Laterza is the author of the poetry chapbook, The Psyche Trials (Finishing Line Press, 2019) and a SU-CASA 2018 award recipient from the Brooklyn Arts Council. Stephanie’s work has appeared in L’Éphémère Review, A Gathering of the Tribes, Newtown Literary, Literary Mama, The Nottingham Review,Akashic Books, Obra/Artifact, Latina Outsiders, Raising Mothers, and is forthcoming in the anthology, I Wanna Be Loved By You: Poems on Marilyn Monroe (Milk and Cake Press, 2022).