Named for Royalty
My mother named me Mafalda Yolanda Margherita
the names of all the King’s daughters. I just hated it.
There I was sewing buttons on cardboard squares,
40 cents for 144 named for royalty.
I remember the shop I went to for my first job.
It was down some steps on South St., like a dungeon.
All the girls at the machines were wearing
their underwear and skimpy blouses. I was so proud
of my diploma how smart I was and all the floor
man wanted was to see me in my underwear.
Nome di un re
Mia madre mi ha chiamato Mafalda Yolanda Margherita
i nomi di tutte le figlie del re. Lo odiavo.
Ero lì a cucire bottoni su quadratini di cartone
40 centesimi per 144 dal nome regale.
Ricordo il negozio dove sono andata per il mio primo lavoro.
Si scendevano alcuni gradini giù da South Street, come una segreta.
Tutte le ragazze sedute alle macchine indossavano
la loro biancheria intima e bluse striminzite.
Ero così orgogliosa del mio diploma
e di quanto fossi intelligente e tutto quello
che gli uomini del piano volevano
era vedermi in mutande.
Minefield of Memories Kalsa District, Palermo
In the cold, dry space of winter,
ancestors’ songs haunt the family home.
Two flights of stairs, sepia photos,
torn chairs, couches stripped down
since the WWII bombing raid.
From the street below yellowing wallpaper,
three bared walls visible to all.
Tracing the family tree to this spot
no one wants to talk about, remember.
In the heart of Palermo’s Kalsa district
stands a 12th century fortress crowned
by turrets like giants’ teeth,
cats and dogs roam
the bitter dust
feral and free.
C’era una volta – Once Upon a Time
Snow White travels
with Seven Dwarves in tow.
Could it mean that women get
seven little men to serve them? Or,
did they stand for the seven deadly sins?
Cinderella or Cenerella, the abused bastard
of a houseful of spiteful hens,
came close behind, followed
by Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel,
pale blondes who tossed
their hair out windows or wore
braids wrapped like little crowns.
I knew them for what they were,
“paper dollies,” no one would want
to resemble for more than a minute
because they’d blow away.
Instead, I sat unnoticed among
the vecchietti, the elders on Saturday mornings
to watch Continental Miniatures’
black and white edgy heroines
like the wild-eyed Anna Magnani,
sweaty, bloody, hair as black as crows
and opera as common as the tar on streets.
Unlike my friends’ American parents,
Italian nonni never sheltered me
from impassioned tales of fallen women.
Mamma Roma’s midriff rolled
through cheap black satin
as Magnani fended off tricks
on her pilgrimage
to right her life, sell fresh fruit,
win her son back, fly
into the snare of madness,
in a dialect I always understood.
Leonor Fini 1907-1996
Anna Magnani 1908-1973
The best of friends, they posed
together, looking more alike each year:
vivacious, dark, controversial,
women with pasts that followed them.
When Anna Magnani died, Leonor Fini locked
herself in the room with the corpse.
For four days, she studied her
knowing they were together
for the last time on earth.
She observed, drew her in repose.
After all the men — Picasso, Ernst, Genet —
her heart belonged to Magnani
whom she painted with no apologies.
Fini lived with 23 cats,
if one fell ill, she would fall ill,
swirl in a pool of depression.
Yet, the stilled Magnani inspired her
to do what she did best, sketch, paint,
document Magnani for herself.
Did she stray into Magani’s closet,
slip into her clothes to hold her closer?
Did she drink or eat? Was she dazzled by death?
Did anyone dare disturb her?
Did her cats gather at her feet?
I picture her cross-legged, lotus position sharing
the bed with Anna during those days,
picture her running her finger
along Magnani’s profile, brushing clouds
of black hair over the pillow, for the best effect, for the
last good-bye, for the series of portraits.
Maria Lisella is the sixth Queens Poet Laureate 2015-2018. Her work has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Poetry Prize, her collections include Thieves in the Family(NYQ Books), and two chapbooks: Amore on Hope Street, and Two Naked Feet. Her work has been published widely. She co-curates the Italian American Writers Association readings, contributes to USA TODAY, and the online bilingual publications, La Voce di New York and BridgePugliaUSA.