Becoming Italian

You cannot just “be” Italian
even if you are born into la famiglia.
You start by teething on buttery pizzelles,
ingesting a bit of anisette
to soothe your tummy.

You begin to eat dittalini,
“small fingers” of pasta
drenched in sauce
from tomatoes drenched in the summer sun.
You pick them up with chubby hands
and imagine all Italians eating with gusto.

You savor the rind from a chunk of Grana Padano –
nutty, tangy cheese with a wretched stench
that drives your friends away
and all the better, there is more for you.

Your lover thinks of your body
as the Italian countryside
his fingers rolling through the richness
of rivers, valleys, vines.
And when you explode with emotions, it must be
because you cannot sit idle
while the world calls you dego, wop.
You are padre, amico, madre, que bella italiana.

To be Italian, you must feel the bows rocking
on the Madonna or Lafayette
as the ships cross the Atlantic,
inhale the smoke of hot iron
or the steam off the rising dough,
put in years of hard work
in the garden and kitchen,
like the Etruscans who fended off
those from foreign lands,
to keep pure the race of olive-skinned.

You slurp calamari with the same delight
that ‘mericanos slurp spaghetti
and know that someday
your two eye brows will become one,
not from hair,
but from the creases on your temple
where your determination
has met the world head on.


2/9/2009, rev. 2-19-2009


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