Katherine Di Bella Seluja


Or what sounded to me like scuba

or scoopuh when my grandparents said it.

Something Sicilian and covered in sesame seeds.

But no, it was the table that was covered in crumbs

because crackers were a part of our scoring system. 

And although I know the names of the parents of my grandparents

and the names of their villages too: Cerami, Piverone, Masenzana.

I am searching for something more.

Did my ancestors sail from Tunisia or Greece or Spain?

Were they indentured or bartered, convicts runaways gadabouts.  

Were they sailors willing or not, swaying on the deck playing scopa

a game with small cards or dice or carved bone. Something to pass the time

to challenge to bet: uno, due, tre.

Did they throw away their earnings or throw someone over.

Their watch is done, they’ve choked down a crust of flat bread

with a bit of salt fish and stale water.

I take another sip of cool water and spit into a small plastic tube,

fill the tube to the blue wavy line, wait six weeks for answers.

I held those cards tight in the bright yellow breakfast nook 

that was part of my grandfather’s kitchen.

Scooping the deck, calling the points: uno, due, tre.

My grandmother would pause the game when the saltine crumbs threatened

to take over the table and win the next trick and then it would be time for a few cookies

maybe a glass of milk. A dark espresso for my grandfather.

He’d reach over and pinch my cheek 

thumb and finger with an extra hard twist

and he’d say my name, Catarina, like no one else ever did.


Katherine DiBella Seluja is the author of Gather the Night, a poetry collection that concerns itself with the effects of mental illness. She is co-author of We Are Meant to Carry Water, a collaborative poetry collection inspired by the 2016 presidential election. Katherine is a poetry editor at Unbroken Journal and lives with her husband and daughters in New Mexico.