Maria Fama

Maria Fama

 

NUN PROMETTIRI A SANTI E PICCIRIDDI
DON’T MAKE PROMISES TO SAINTS AND CHILDREN

When I was a little girl
every year in late summer
a man with a mahogany arm visited
collecting money for the poor
in honor of San Nicola da Tolentino

He sat at our kitchen table
sipping espresso, munching biscotti,
writing into his donation book,
all with his left hand
his richly dark right arm
with the curved hand and
delicate, carved fingernails
sat motionless on the table top

My parents always gave money
we always attended the party
the man with the mahogany arm hosted in September
in honor of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino
in a hall jammed with children and adults
piles of panini, big platters of pasta,
trays of cookies, tubs of soda and beer on ice,
a bar for whiskey and anisette,
music, dancing, and laughter
the man with the mahogany arm stood
in the center of it all
smiling, joking, singing,
his still wooden arm
hanging at his side

When my father told us the story of
the man with the mahogany arm
he began, Nun promettiri a santi e picciriddi
Don’t make promises to saints and children
when the man with the mahogany arm
was a young man in Italy
he got very sick
he prayed to San Nicola da Tolentino
promising that if he got well
he would collect money for the poor and
hold a big feast in the Saint’s honor
the man got better     time passed
he forgot his promise to San Nicola
when his right arm began to swell
it had to be cut off
a mahogany arm replaced it
he then remembered his promise
which he fulfilled every year
even when he came to America
he went house to house collecting money for the poor
and honoring the Saint with a big party

Nun promettiri a santi e picciriddi
Don’t make promises to saints and children
Saints I knew were powerful but I asked
How could a child force someone
to keep a promise?

My father explained, Nun promettiri a santi e picciriddi because
children will give you no peace     they will keep asking
they will say, “You promised!” over and over
they will not forget
you will wish you never promised

Don’t make promises to saints and children
Saints and children expect a promise to be kept
children will annoy in the short term
saints will act in the long term
it is best to heed the advice
Nun promettiri a santi e picciriddi.

 

Maria Famà is an award-winning author of seven books of poetry.  She has been featured in films reading her poetry. Her poems, short stories, and essays have appeared in numerous publications. Her latest books are Other Nations: an animal journal by Pearlsong Press (2017) and Mystics in the Family by Bordighera Press (2013). Of Sicilian descent, Famà lives and works in Philadelphia.

 

 

 

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