“And she was a shop keeper’s
my maternal uncle told me,
adding one solid fact to the fragments,
the statement always preceded by “And”
and in a tone of baffled disbelief
that suggested her trade of old
for new had not been a bargain.
A casa sua non le mancava niente.
She had more than enough at home.
But my great grandmother’s
final destination was no stranger
than the country of marriage,
to which she had migrated
after her vows to love, obey,
follow her man wherever it be,
his house, his town, America,
after waiting for years for his call,
a mining camp in Sunnyside, Utah,
makeshift housing on a slack hill,
coal dust that seeped into the lungs,
the pores, and turned into mud and ink
when it rained. And unlike our paesani
in Clarksburg, West Virginia,
who peopled that town, she was isolated
from kin and kind, and lived far from Price,
where some of her seven children
would open a hardware/furniture store.
Antonia Iaconis Mele died suddenly
at forty three in the influenza epidemic,
and was long gone from Carbon County
when her descendants began collecting
on the debts life and the new world
owed their mother and grandmother,
nine long years of accounts receivable.
Reading the Names
Plain or polished, grey, pink
or black, the markers on the graves
are as different in size,
taste or ambition as the people
who erected them. Still,
whether simple stones
or family mausoleums,
they're all lined up on the level
field, like pieces on a chess board,
players in a game, large groups
turned in the same direction,
as if waiting for a summons,
a call to action. They face
their opponents who face them
across a narrow lane, a number
that never gets smaller,
that grows closer together,
and more cosmopolitan with the years.
A few at a time over a long time,
or just recently, new members
have joined the oldest residents:
Perfetti, Kamitsios and Ciacciarelli,
Zhao, Nguyen, and Gonzalez.
No matter how strange to read,
how difficult to pronounce,
almost no one today
changes his name to one or two
In 1976 several dozen Smiths
went back to Kowalski.
And I've heard announcers
attempt a pure vowel, toss a singing octave
into the homogenizing American air.
First published in The Dos Passos Review