Joanna Clapps Herman has had 21 short prose pieces and poems accepted for publication during this Covid era. Five of these are poems published in MUTHA, about the birth of her first grandchild. 12 others were in the Ocean State Review. Her most recent book length publication, When I am Italian: Quando sono italiana, (SUNY Press, November, 2019) explores the question of whether it’s possible to be Italian if you weren’t born in Italy. Other books include No Longer and Not Yet and The Anarchist Bastard: Growing Up Italian in America. She has co-edited two anthologies; Wild Dreams and Our Roots Are Deep with Passion. She loves to cook, eat and drink wine as much as she loves to read write and learn.
Please visit: joannaclappsherman.com
Persians, Xerxes’ men,
Are gaining on us as
We flee up through the rows of
Gramma’s enormous kitchen garden
Past heavy red tomatoes
Their spears and shields clank
And beat, trampling the earth,
Past wide rows of tall corn.
The lake beyond is
Past the peppers, ‘u basilicol’
Rows ripe e matur’,
Fruits of hard labor and manure
Up through the last rows
Toward the stone slaughterhouse
Toward the pigs up the hill
Will this pursuit ever end?
Mai, mai, finische!
Who will weep and wail the
A potted Meyer lemon tree lives on and off my terrace. More friend than plant. Last year it grew four lemons. Each takes 9 months from blossom to full fruit. I wrapped two for friends, one for me. The last one–full, ripe, hung heavy, ready to drop—gift for Ann, I thought. Picked the box to give it in. She got a cold. Making an apple crisp, I found no lemons in my fridge. So hard to pluck, use it like just another lemon. It hung ready, brightly yellow. Seven new blossoms with the scent of anywhere but here.
Sulla balconia, nel mia finta italia, there is a lemon tree with six green lemons, pots of the darkest red geraniums, two tiny olive trees in one pot, hibiscus burst with yellows and corals, dried vine branches from my sister’s garden fence tied together with a red string hang on the wall. Sweet breezes blow. I am writing here, using my mother’s pasta board balanced on legs. Two Moroccan trays sit on folding legs: where my friends and I eat and drink and talk through the sunset hours. La mia miracoluccia è nata ma la sua nome no saccio i!
My grandfathers both had grape arbors. Grampa Clapps’ arbor was at the end of his garden where we ate on a long simple table summer days before he became sick. Grampa Becce’s arbor came out over the long stone bench where the kids played, eating the grapes when they ripened in the fall. The stone pavement had dark stains from the fallen grapes under our feet as we played. Neither arbor had anything to do with the barrels of wine they made. Neither was fancy—both left me with a permanent ache that I live a life without an arbor.
I bought a reproduction of Villa Livia’s garden wall on the internet. This image, replicated on canvas, sits on my bureau opening my interior, a plane on which is projected, a frescoed garden wall originally meant to create the illusion of more garden for Livia, more trees, flowers, fruit, birds, color. This piece intersects nature, civilization, culture, with an image of nature groomed, so the controlling of nature, nature as culture, a line dividing inside and the outside, three dimensions flattened into two. For me it’s, italia, roma, longing, at remove from the messy exigencies of the actual.
Poetry in this post: © Joanna Clapps Herman
Published with the permission of Joanna Clapps Herman