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