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).