Poem in Handfuls

Three poems by Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello


Poem in Handfuls


My grandmother was preparing

to die. Already she had

given away everything of value:

her mother’s cedar dresser

to the eldest of four,

the ceramic milkmaid hiding

a butter dish under her skirt,

gloss-winged issues of Birds

& Blooms, half-finished

crosswords and ciphers,

even the fading poinsettia.

Then, to me she said,

Cup your hands. I did.

She poured a measure of water

into my bowl of fingers,

and I could not contain it all.

But then, what did I know

of accumulations—of currents?



Elegy in Red


Somehow you saw it all beforehand,

choosing the thick, rounded brushes

and later, the one with just three hairs.

Porous white ceramic drew in each color:

brown and burnt sienna for the grooved bark

overlaid with leaves and a small cluster

of pink petals pearled with dew. We all said

pink would clash with the feathered scarlet

of the cardinal, ebony-eyed, betraying

caprice in its stillness. Like your voice

winding through the vents in our house

each night because you can’t sleep,

thinking of all our father holds dear

that isn’t us. Like me, each morning unsure

if you will return to us with the dark.

Like you standing to place the bird in the fire

of the kiln for the glazing, and both of us

watching it fall, watching it shatter.





When I was younger

and better, I found a pin

shaped like a gold clover,

four leaves and green

loopy lettering O’

Calabretta and my father

told me he wore it

on St. Patty’s Day to keep

away the Italian in him

and the Irish fists at bay

at least one day of the year.

I never found the pin again.

It disappeared as if he was

ready to forget each bruise

or wanted me to stop asking

what he was like at my age

or wanted to believe

the world could be

kinder to every Calabretta

who came after him,

saying that I was already

one of the lucky ones.



Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello

Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello is the author of Hour of the Ox (University of Pittsburgh, 2016), which won the 2015 AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and the 2016 Florida Book Award bronze medal for poetry. She has received poetry fellowships from Kundiman, the Knight Foundation, and the American Literary Translators Association. Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, The Georgia Review, The New York Times, and more. She serves as a program coordinator for Miami Book Fair. www.marcicalabretta.com