They hang unused in my hearth now,
My great-grandmother, Maria Pieri Bettini,
carried them from Italy
more than a century ago.
I picture her, this tiny woman
I know only through photos
and my nonna’s stories,
walking up the gangplank
of the ship in Naples, weighed down
by luggage and three children.
Sent for finally
by her husband,
who had labored long
in the stone sheds of Quincy
to afford their passage.
So much of her past had to be left behind,
but she wasn’t leaving without her cooking pots.
Hand-hammered, their burnished bellies gleaming,
the copper pots with their wrought-iron handles
swing on a rope
draped over her thin shoulders.
She didn’t know what she’d have
to put in them in this new country,
hopefully more than the starchy bulk of polenta
that had quieted many a growling stomach
back in their mountain village.
But Dio mio,
at least it would be cooked right.
Naples, there’s as much to hate about you
as there is to love.
The piles of uncollected garbage
that rise like fetid mountains from the sidewalk.
The bitter roasted perfection
of a cup of espresso
from a tiny street cafe`.
The thieves that buzz your narrow streets on motor scooters
who will tear gold earrings from women’s ears.
The pizza margherita as delicate
as a lover’s kiss.
Crossing a wide boulevard
where the clot of cars never abates
and traffic lights and stop signs
are seen as mere suggestions.
Like New Yorkers on steroids
your people alternately
infuriate and charm me
with explosive outbursts
in a dialect many Italians
It’s said that Neapolitans
embrace every day with abandon
living in the shadow of Vesuvius
never knowing when it’s going
to erupt again and bury them
in volcanic ash like Pompei.
Am I the only one
that sees a puff of smoke
rising from its summit,
and smells a whiff of sulfur in the air?
Nun sputà ‘ncielo
ca ‘nfaccia te torna
tilting their heads upwards
with a wry smile –
Don’t spit into the sky because
it’ll land on your face.
A truism spoken by people
who instinctively know
that the heavens
will somehow determine
Brett Peruzzi lives in Framingham, Massachusetts. His poems and prose have previously appeared in Ovunque Siamo, The Boston Globe, Exquisite Corpse, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Sahara, Pine Island Journal, Boston Poetry Magazine, Gloom Cupboard, and other publications. His family came to Quincy, Massachusetts, near Boston, at the beginning of the twentieth century from the Rome area and the province of Lucca in Tuscany. Both branches of the family worked in Quincy’s granite industry, eventually owning their own businesses, which specialized in cemetery headstones and other monuments.