Rosalia Dechbery is the daughter of Sicilian immigrants. She is a native New Yorker, a poet, and an educator.
A Lesson on Eating Sea Urchin
I’m curiously drawn to the open water, though I
never learned to swim. I’m tempted by the thrill
of diving towards the unknown, the way my dad
swam in the ocean, as if he’d searched for Atlantis.
My Nonna used to watch with a lump in her throat:
He must be imagining he’s still a boy in Palermo,
with dreams playing out on the beaches. He loved
to swim. It freed him, a welcomed relief from being
his father’s apprentice, baking and putting up with
the insufferable heat, when we all worked to survive.
On workdays that we knew were going to be brutal
for a child, we would send him down to the ocean
with his friends for the day to swim and catch sea
urchin, and sometimes, he would bring back a crate,
with his fingers bleeding, stuck with the sharp spines.
My son cut open sea urchins, slurping golden orange
uni from their shells, raw, and drenched with lemon.
He ate them gluttingly, as if he was Icarus discovering
the trick to touching the sun without fear of melting
his flourishing wings. We worried that he would hurt
himself. Though it was difficult, we watched quietly
to let him figure it out on his own, as parents know
there is a limit to their words, and children must be
released from fear to swim freely, to catch sea urchin,
to learn to eat as if kissing the sun without bleeding.
My First Steps
On the stone steps of my aunt’s country
home in the hills of Alcamo, I sprung
up from the seat of my stroller, rushing
forward and falling down the spiraling
staircase to the shock of my relatives,
who watched as the baby who couldn’t
walk at fourteen months old, rose up
like a phenomenal awakening had stirred
inside of her, and her plump, dimpled legs
found a strength sourced by the midday
Sicilian sun. Under its rays, my mother
yelled, The baby! She called to my father,
The baby is dead! He later admitted
he had held his breath in that moment,
as I tumbled down each step, like the willful
wheel of a broken wooden wagon, set upon
its own course. Papà held his arms out stiffly,
and watched without moving, as I finally hit
the last step and leaped up, and then kept
going, sprinting forward towards the garden.
You ran before you could walk, you know?
My father liked to tell the story, but the hint
of trauma still lingered in his recollection.
Everyone thought you were going to die.
The baby! He remembered, And I saw you
hit the floor, running. The memory caught
in his throat, as he relived the miraculous
milestone. No one could catch you. He said
I ran with my arms extended, until they found
me, collapsed next to a wicker basket that had
been filled with freshly picked and peeled
prickly pears and sun-ripened figs – my face,
sticky and stained purple from eating the fruit,
as if it were ambrosia. My dad proudly winked,
acknowledging that the day I took my first steps
in my ancestral land, I claimed a humble throne
among the gods, resolving, even as a small child,
that I was destined to exceed the expectations
that the previous generations had all had for me.
Travel to Trinacria
Medusa greets eager travelers along the coastline
and inside the three capes – the beheaded beauty,
crowning jewel of Aegis on Athena’s bronze shield.
Women protect the treasure of the Mediterranean,
that ancient island of Sicily, steeped in lore and history.
They collectively hold it to their breasts as their baby.
The triskelion is a tenacious guide, welcoming myth
and magic, with illusive skill to mask impudent trickery,
as the hypnotic spirals draw in travelers, calling them
to explore. The symmetrical legs are carnival barkers,
announcing the entrance into the theatrical circus,
where one might return a million times over, trading
bags of peanuts for green pistachio, trying the hazelnut
gelato natives enjoy scooping into fresh brioche buns.
When the sun is disorienting, the colorful hung tapestries
are fit to make anyone hallucinate. The decorated mules
pull carts ready to transport guests, trekking through towns
that managed to absorb the echoes of millennia of musical
instruments, singing, and sobbing that can’t be distinguished
from songs of unrequited love. Baritone bellowing of lost wars
mimics the cheering heard far off from festivals in the piazza.
Local vendors will implore vacationers to relax and not worry,
urging them to soak in the splendors, support the merchants,
appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of Sicilian trinkets
that call to be bought for friends and relatives as souvenirs,
iconic tokens to tempt visitors to return to the trove of citrus
and riches, with smiles etched on faces as if carved in stone.
Poetry in this post: © Rosalia Dechbery
Published with the permission of Rosalia Dechbery