Cradle Rhythms

New Canadians, they called us

the families on our street

Italians and the Greeks

Portuguese, Ukranians

New Canadians

      to distinguish us from the old Canadians perhaps

      like Mrs. Brown from two doors down

      who had a moustache

      and a stubby black dog who waddled when he walked

      and a carpet beater made of metal and wood


New Canadians who brought old words

from the old country

     like sculapasta for draining spaghetti

     and sculapiatta for draining the plates

paletta and scupa to sweep up the floor


who brought old habits

from the old country

     like wearing black for the rest of your life

     if your husband passed away


and praying to Sant’Antonio

to help recover something you had lost

     and praying to the Madonna

     for safe travel


who brought old ideas

from the old country

     like indulging children, li picciliddri

     and respecting the elderly, li vicchiarriddri

and not forgetting where you came


unforgettable moments

this growing up in this

new Canada like

     45s on the record player, dancing

     when company arrived, like

pleating, tying, unfolding kleenex tissues

into rainbow-coloured flowers to tape onto

the silver Strato-Chief

when cousins got married, like

     watching nanna roll paper-thin lasagna

     from the magic of flour, eggs & nu pizzicuni of salt

     using a stegnatore, a four-foot long rolling pin

     my father fashioned for her by sanding

     an old broomstick, like

picking basil from the garden

fresh and fragrant

for the jars of sugo, tomato sauce we were

preserving in the bagno marina


and then there were the rhythms

of a language that predates Italian

     this Sicilian which has roots

     as wide and wild as its branches

not just in Latin but in Greek and in the

tongues of the Spaniards and the Moors

and the Normans and the Carthaginians

     who came to this sun-drenched triangle of an island

     and liked it so much they never left


rhythms that continue to resonate

     like the ninna-nanna that soothed us

     as babes, like the tarantella we danced to

like the pluckings of the mandolin

sad strains that speak of longing

     of leaving the beloved land

     and crossing an expanse of salt


these were my cradle rhythms

sounds I in turn rocked my babies to

     the snippets and stories I pass on to them

the subtleties and complexities

what it means to me to be

a new Canadian

Here I am in the garden at Dewson Street, three, I think, on my way to my fourth birthday in October.

The ribbon in my hair, the Mary Janes.

I remember the sweater; I remember tugging down the sleeves of my sweater my nanna had knit, that was getting too small as I grew.

Behind me the seedlings my nonno and Uncle Peter (tzu Pitru) started in late winter, in crates from California grapes.  We made our own wine in the basement.  The heady smell of mosto, crushed grapes, waiting for fermentation before passing it through the press, lu turchiu.

Cradle Rhythms was originally published in Wax Poetry and Art, October 2017, Canada.  Publisher:  Kirk Ramdath

© 2020 by poet Josephine Lia LoRe

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