Rina Ferrarelli came from Italy at the age of fifteen. She was awarded degrees in English from Mount Mercy College (now Carlow University) and Duquesne University, and taught English and translation studies at the University of Pittsburgh for many years. She has published a book and a chapbook of original poetry, Home Is a Foreign Country (Eadmer Press, 1996), and Dreamsearch (malafemmina press, 1992); and three books of translation, Light Without Motion (Owl Creek Press, 1989), I Saw the Muses (Guernica, 1997), and Winter Fragments: Selected Poems of Bartolo Cattafi, (Chelsea Editions, 2006). The Bread We Ate, another book of poems, will be forthcoming from Guernica in 2010.
Her poems and translations have also appeared in publications such as American Sports Poems (Orchard Books, 1988), BSU Forum, Barrow Street, The Chariton Review, Chelsea, College English, The Critic, Denver Quarterly, The Dream Book: Writings by Italian American Women (Schocken Books, 1985), 5 A.M., The Hudson Review, Images, The International Quarterly, Kansas Quarterly, Kindled Terraces: American Poets in Greece (Truman State University Press, 2004), Kiss Me Goodnight (Siren Book Co, 2005),Knowing Stones: Poems of Exotic Places (John Gordon Burke Publishers, 2000), Larger than Life (Black Moss Press, 2002), The Laurel Review, Line Drives (Southern Illinois University Press, 2002), The Literary Review, Looking for Home (Milkweed Editions, 1990), The MacGuffin, Main Street Rag, Mss. Magazine, The Milk of Almonds (The Feminist Press, 2002), New Letters, The New Orleans Review, The Panhandler, Paper Street, Paterson Literary Review, Pennsylvania English, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Poet Pyramid Magazine, Lore, Poetry NOW, Tar River Poetry, West Branch, Wild Dreams (Fordham University Press, 2008), poetrymagazine.com, canwehaveourballback.com, triplopia.com, and in many other journals and anthologies, including several textbooks.
We rest in the cool sleek portico
before going in to see what’s survived,
fragments that hint at what might’ve been
a selection of a selection we make the most of
no matter how provisional. Detached
from the full context like a memory,
a deed we wish to be remembered by.
A chipped urn, a frieze, a column
or pediment, at times an entire vase
with time frozen on it, a statue
with only a broken arm, a broken hand,
one of many, or something miraculous:
Antinoüs, present in every inch
of his young beautiful body.
He knows he’s going to live forever,
with or without Hadrian’s love,
the sculptor’s work. Immanence itself.
As close, as anchored to the ground
as the Charioteer hovers above it.
Horses and chariot missing
he stands there still, feet together,
back straight, slim body gracefully robed,
eyes, like those of the artist, I imagine,
fixed on the invisible goal. Nothing else
exists for him. Neither the swaying chariot,
nor the nervous, snorting horses
rock the quiet of this youth, gathered in himself,
lifted by his passion above everything.
Postcards from Greece
Out of the city, no billboards,
the signs in Greek letters only–I’m way past
when I figure them out.
The hills look like they must have
for thousands of years.
The tops, rocky,
a few stands of trees below them.
In the pines and scrub oaks,
the dark green of cypresses.
I think of Italian cemeteries,
but they are planted when a girl is born,
cut and sold for her dowry.
If we stopped long enough,
if we left the road
and cut cross-country
we might hear the sound of pipes
drifting through the woods.
Small well-kept gardens,
Orange and lemon trees.
The fruit, leathery and green.
Pistachios hang in festive bunches,
the shells delicately shaded
I can’t take my eyes off them.
We stop at a roadside restaurant
open on all sides. Rough-hewn tables
under a makeshift roof.
We order a salad. Tomatoes
and cucumbers, olives and feta cheese.
The daughter who knows English
waits on us. Fresh bread,
Shepherds and kings must’ve eaten like this.
From the terrace
we look at the slopes of other hills,
layered and misty, tapering off in the distance,
all the way down to the water
a silver-green inlet of the sea.
A bay of olives!
A lemon granita
in Piazza della Signorìa.
An afternoon delight
even when I compete
with the yellow jackets,
the bees who sit on the lip,
whether I’m looking or not,
and try to steal a sip.
Freshly squeezed juice,
and sugar, not syrup.
I relish the scent, the taste,
the feel of granular ice
rolling on my tongue.
I spoon, crunch it, drink up
every single drop.
Caffè nero or cappuccino.
Slices of melon on a platter,
apricot and mint against the white.
Small purple figs, oozing nectar
out of the crack at one end. Un panino,
only a few hours out of the oven,
croccante. Shells of unsalted butter.
An Italian Serenade
È ‘na passiona chiù forte ‘e ‘na catena
(It’s a passion stronger than a chain)
The sounds of traffic dissipate across the bridge,
grow fainter up the mountain road.
Only the hum of water remains, soothing
as the summers spent in this house,
listening to the river’s voice, lulled by her lullabies,
such a long time ago, it seems like another life.
A hum above which I float in the twilight of sleep,
drifting out of hearing in the dark, out of feeling,
when the strumming of a guitar,
the picking of a mandolin break open the night.
A madeleine of sound, youth and raw longing.
I peek through the half-open shutter as if I were
a girl again, as if the song were meant for me.
The neighbor boys are back from their serenades.
Friends all their lives and still together,
they sit on the steps of the fountain, the shrine
at the crossroads, as on the stairs of a house,
glowing in the light of the naked bulb,
the enameled shade, tilting like a halo above them.
È ‘na passiona chiù forte ‘e ‘na catena. . .
All join the singer at the end, their four voices
blending in a passionate finale. A flourish
of strummed notes, and they spring into action,
calling loudly and happily to each other,
brandishing the knife, lifting the melon
out of the stone watering trough, and under
myriad stars wheeling and changing above them,
they eat the red flesh, drink the cool water.
The Arno flows quietly
toward a certain conclusion,
under the gauntlet of bridges,
shining like steel,
like the trophy fans hope for,
as they celebrate a victory
over a most simpatico rival,
the young tifosi
weaving a rollicking double helix
from one bank of the river to the other,
horns blaring, red, white and green flags
hoisted out of the windows,
each small car stuffed,
and they wave and laugh and yell,
telling anyone who’s still up
they’re alive and on top of the world,
under the tolerant face of the moon.
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Poetry in this post: © Rina Ferrarelli
Published with the permission of Rina Ferrarelli