Song of the Third Generation
by Julia Lisella
I learned to read in the dark,
in the car, wherever the light
moved, shifted. My mother believed
I would burn my eyes out.
Between the breath and the text
my birth and hers kept happening
in the late night
in the daily horoscopes
in the 4:30 Movie
and the huge picture books filled with Hollywood stars.
My Ava Gardner died, my mother says.
My mother learned how to read the text of a life
as her mother learned to translate Il Progresso:
by reading a little bit of headline,
any little bit.
They could both predict disasters—my mother's
in American English: divorce, drug addiction
and insane asylums. Nonna's in rich Calabrian dialect:
earthquakes, earthquakes, and food shortages.
Somewhere between our mouths
and what we said is what we learned.
Somewhere in the old country
we breathed text
without knowing how to read.
I learned in the old way too—
in a corner of the kitchen
watching my mother pour the batter
of flour and zucchini blossoms
into bright spattering oil,
or in the cool basement at the edge of the ironing board,
the lint speckling her dark sweater,
at her elbow as she whipped the cloth
beneath the needle of her industrial Singer.
No other record, no other text
exists but the buzzing and this way of learning
in the old way, which is any way
that we can.