Since 1996 Volume XXI

Rina Ferrarelli


 Rina Ferrarelli has written and published many poems on  subjects and themes having to do with emigration, and has translated as well the work of Italian poets into English. Her most recent collections prior to The Winter Without Spring, forthcoming from Main Street Rag in the fall, are The Bread We Ate  (Guernica), poetry, and Winter Fragments (Chelsea), translation of poetry and she was a Poet in Person in the School,  a Poet at Noon through the International Poetry Forum, and has taught English and translation studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She was awarded an NEA, and the Italo Calvino Prize from Columbia University. 

     A Walk in the Morning

I've stayed away from treadmills and tracks, 
and the close air of shopping malls, 
walking the circuitous paths 
from what once was a hollow to what once  
was a ridge, part of the season,
and of the small community 
that sets out in the morning: scattered troops 
of track and cross country runners 
their vests flashing orange  
as they push by, flushed and eager; 
women who drop their children off 
at nursery school and then jog together 
talking all the time; courtly older men
who keep a measured pace and never fail 
to meet my eye as they nod or say hello.
The dog lover with the cane
who walks her poodles one at a time. 
Like a child who can't wait to grow up,
I rush through the first mile, mile and a half, 
and then slow down on the way back, 
catching my breath and looking around:
I watch the age of the lily 
follow the age of the peony, the age of the lilac; 
the rose that endures through fall. 
Soon, purple and yellow mums will appear, 
in stiff bunches, straight rows.  
A maple's gone. The township men 
are shredding the stump. 
A new tree will take its place in the spring.
That foil-wrapped house 
is getting a facial.  And wall by wall, 
floor by floor the framework's going up 
on the new public safety building.  
You could use it this month 
to show the passing of days 
as they did calendar pages in old movies.     

(First appeared in Pittsburgh Poetry Review)


A stain like wine on the fresh 
Italian bread, and the small 
wild cherries glazed, 
shining like garnets.  You pause, 
allow their beauty to fill your eyes. 
You count on the bread and jam
to be fragrant and sweet, 
and a little bit tart, 
but the marmellata you like so much 
tastes sour this morning.  
It's the same jar you've been dipping into 
in a month of scattered days, 
the one with the sepia label 
of a Trappist monastery, rectangular 
buildings making a square 
around a courtyard, a setting 
you know intimately--you played 
in the cloisters of one like it--tall,
floor to arch windows 
looking out on an inner garden: 
formal arrangements, fixed, 
pre-set boundaries.  Predicable,  
unlike the subtle change  
you're experiencing today--a random 
occurrence, perhaps, temporary,
too much or not enough of some 
substance, a trace element even, 
that's all it takes sometimes 
to tip the balance.   

Or it could just as well be 
something pre-disposed: 
a timer that goes off inside, 
releasing or withholding hormones, 
enzymes, proteins, starting 
or shutting off functions.
Of 300 buds on each papilla, 
(your senses sharper than most),
how many are left?  Even the coffee 
bitter, despite sweetening.  
You wonder what it is 
and what it means within the body/
mind conundrum, and whether 
you'll invent reasons 
that have nothing to do with chemistry
because you can’t stand the void.   

( First appeared in VIA-Voices in Italian Americana)

The Weather of Our Season

The trees that line the street
are still reduced to their limbs, 
and the snow that wiped all difference
a few days ago 
                  lies granular as sugar 
mounded on their roots, 
                      at the edge of walks, 
clean-scented snowmelt 
running down the slope across my path.


Before long, 
                     the grass will brighten, 
yellow coltsfoot and purple violets 
will lend a note of color, 
                                        a fragrance
to the yards, and the sticks and branches 
that look so dead now 
will gradually come back to life.  

But nothing will revive in the winter 
we inhabit
                           erasure the signature 
of the winter without spring.


The evening protocol      


As the sun goes down, 
I stand between the fading light 
and the darker dark, 

trying to keep the fangs at the door 
from entering our waking hours,
his dreams at night.

We watch Everybody Loves Raymond,  
and he laughs and laughs,
and I laugh with him.

He may or may not follow 
Jeopardy, and what comes next 
forgotten every day, 

something I put him through: 
the drops in the green bottle,
the pills—two sizes and shades of pink, 

the orange and turquoise capsule.  
I tuck him in, and give him a peck, 
or he blows me a kiss, 

on faith, who knows who I am, 
friend, caregiver, the woman 
who’s boss here.  Whatever here 
is. Not home, never home.


(First appeared in Paterson Literary Review)


Bath Time        

He takes the bath he refused in the morning,
sulking, running to the basement and sitting 

in a chair for half an hour.  As if hiding 
from me.  He sits at last on the side of the tub, 

legs in, and I soap his feet, his legs--still straight 
and attractive, bonier, scrapes on the shins 

like a boy’s--give him the cloth and let him soap 
himself, while I slowly name his body parts,

and when he misses the prompt or seems confused, 
I point, then take the rag and do his back—

somewhat stooped now, that shallow groove I loved,
gone; wash the crack wiped clean of shit.  Standing, 

he turns under the warm water, rubs the dollop
of shampoo all over his head, rinses off. 

Swaddled in a large blue towel, he dries himself.  
I sprinkle talcum on his back, under his arms, 

between his toes; help him into a fresh T-shirt, 
a clean pull-up. He’s calmer, wants to go to bed.  

Walks to the room with his name on the door, 
puts his pajamas on, lies down.  I pray for no 

hallucinations, no nightmares.  Few, if any
interruptions.  Good night, I say.  Good night, 

sleep tight, he says.  Don’t let the bed bugs bite, 
I counter, and we end this day with a smile, laughter. 

(First appeared in Tar River Poetry)

“The Weather of our Season,” “Evening Protocol” and “Bath Time” are from The Winter Without Spring,  Main Street Rag, 2018.

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