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Spring 2015


The Harbor of the World
- O. Arieti
Those Italian Boys
- I. Backalenick
Friendless Featherheads
- G. Beck
- K. Cain
- J. Campbell
King Street Comanche
- B. Foster
- L. Giulianetti
Poets Out of Service
- M. Johnson
Irish Farmer
- L. Kumar
Communion Portrait
- J. Lagier
- M. Lisella
Connemara 2004
- C. Lloyd
Carrying Grandpa
- M. Lyon
The Saying of Mass
- C. Moore
Taking You home
- J. Mulligan
- P. Murray
- P. Nicholas
Resurrecting Easter Sunday
- L. Pierro
Dublin Spirts
- F. Polizzi
Nun Ponnu/They Cannot
- N. Provenzano
- K. Retzlaff
- C. Steinhoff
Strawberry Pickers, Cyprus
- J. Tarwood
Melina's Tarverna
- B. Thomas
No News
- R. Tremmel
- R. Volz
Broadway Bagel
- C. Wald
Taking My 8-Year-Old Daughter to Hear Seamus Heaney
- L. Wiley
My Mother Had a Relationship with Good Bread
- C. Young
Sicilian Traces
- A. Znaidi

Spring 2015


- J. Amato
Moving Day, 1897
- D. Corrigan
My Madeleine
- F. Dunne
A Review Of Italoamericana: The Literature Of The Great Migration, 1880–1943
- G. Fagiani
The Immigrant's Grandson
- J. Giordano
Review of The Glass Ships
- R. Crupi Holz
A Sunday Afternoon
- R. Iulo
Dark Idyll
- T. Sanfilip
The Choir Book
- G. Sullivan
Review of My Two Italies
- T. Zeppetella

Featured Artist
Richard Holz



Joe Amato


She appeared one afternoon on Montemaggiore’s piazza. She had a suitcase in one hand, held a young girl with the other. Not one of the old men gathered on the square had any idea where she came from or what she was about.

Like a freshly opened faucet, they stuttered and stammered and blurted out ideas until a full and rushing conversation got underway. Cruciano Notaro started things off saying, more in jest than true conjecture, she was the bandit daughter of Antonio La Rosa, while Crucianos’ neighbor, Paul De Carlo, proposed that she was another bastard daughter of the local prince who considered Italian unification as a reason to join in solidarity with every citizen who wore a skirt.

All laughed when jokester Giuseppe Cucuzza claimed she was from Cacca di Lupo, which was no specific place at all. It was simply anywhere outside of town where the wolf chooses to shit. When they asked him exactly where Cacca di Lupo was, he said down the road near Caccamo. Most agreed at the end of a hour’s speculation that she came into town from the north, which meant either the southern fork that led up onto a plain leading to Agrigento or the eastern fork that led into the higher reaches of the Madonie.

Of course, conversations sloshed out of the piazza into homes and evening conversations only flooded back the next day when she took up residence in a small shed on the outskirts of town in a small garden abandoned for three seasons after widow Serafina Tocco, the town witch, died.

Swirling and eddying pockets of gossip asked: Was this newcomer, with child and airs, the secret daughter of Strega Tocco? And if so, did she have powers to bewitch the town? Surely Strega Tocco, all chimed in, rivaled the priest and the schoolteacher as an authority on coincidences, happenings and coming events. Indeed, beyond offering an explanation for every mishap and tragedy, as did the priest with his stable of saints and the schoolteachers with blackboards of statistics about progress, Strega Tocco was taken to be source and cause of every odd happening, be it an unexpected death, a mudslide or a hailstorm. Surely in the village mind the newcomer’s potency rivaled that of the government in Rome and the diverse miracles of Saint Anthony. Santa Rosalia still ruled as queen of pity and mercy.

Prejudice grew, spontaneously in some and grudgingly in others, as weeks went by and this woman-from-afar neither violently looked away from others nor stared deeply at them as if to steal their souls. Indeed, as she bought and paid for her bread, milk, vegetables and meat, she went about town with a pleasant demeanor. She enrolled her daughter in school and demanded no special provisions or treatment. She signed their names on the school roster, Anna Tasca Ventimiglia and Angelina, her daughter, who had just turned seven.

Her name, Anna Tasca Ventimiglia, allowed the postmaster, the town’s largest gossip, to use every letter she received and sent to move the mills of suspicion. He made what hay he could out of one letter to and from America; unfortunately no one, except a few know-it-alls, even had an idea about Pennsylvania. And neither the postmaster nor the villagers could connect her name to any place in Sicily they knew. Of course, only a handful had ever been more than fifteen kilometers from the village.

She allayed much suspicion with the currency peasants knew counted most and unlike Strega Tocco, she worked without cease and she worked not with words, spells and telling numbers, but with her hands. She tilled her garden, repaired and painted the shed. In fact, the praise she received for her combination of work and beauty from the village’s men aroused the jealousy of their hardworking wives. Always at the extreme, Rosalia Battimani let loose her anger by splashing some boiling pasta on her husband’s lap the third time he praised Signora Anna Tasca Ventimiglia, saying, “This ought to sizzle your sausage! You abbabbasunatu far nenti!” — silly do-nothing!

Granting grounds for the suspicious, Anna didn’t go to church on Sunday. She spent much of the Sabbath sitting on an old cane chair, reading, while encouraging her daughter to draw and write. She did this while embroidered sheets and pillowcases flapped on her clothesline. “A cafone during the week, a burgisi on Sunday,” said jester Cucuzza.

But above all else, her striking appearance continued to command the attention of the village. She was a head taller than the average woman. Her hair, as black as the deepest sea and a moonless and starless night, was accented by her ivory skin, which made them all say, “She is no Arab, but she is a true Greek — non ‘raba ma vera greca.” Her eyes, sparkling black, were covered by long and thin eyebrows; her long and sharp nose and chin were complemented by her small and sharp breasts, small waist and ample hips, which tapered to long and thin ankles. Angular, like a marchese, constant energy poured out of her. Lighter and more graceful than other women, she walked as if she were above the earth she tread, as if she would simply float up and away one day. If she weren’t a witch, she was a misplaced spirit.

Yet, as tugged at the mind of village, she had a daughter and no husband. What the men couldn’t fathom was the idea that she slept alone. “Obviously, she has danced before,” Cucuzza said, “and once you do this dance,” he elaborated, “it’s hard to keep your feet on the floor.” Every male, if only to save his image, declared how much he would like to dance with her. The women all assented to the truth that daughter Angelina was the spitting image of the mother and formed a chorus, ending every line with the refrain, “Strega Anna ain’t Santa Maria and doesn’t even have a Saint Giuseppe.”

Powerless before the weather, disease, a curse or the kick of the family mule, all the villagers fused Anna to their superstitious minds, except the town’s two fatalists. Antonio Bevacqua proclaimed that witches and saints “are imputenti when it comes to the future. The future comes in two forms — one that we must endure and the other that kills us off.” He always added, the woes of tomorrow suffice worrying about tomorrow.

Carlo Marteddu, the local blacksmith, articulated a more cosmological case for resignation. With large biceps complementing his authority, Carlo pounded out his opinions as if he were beating a white-hot horseshoe on his anvil. “Look at the stars above. They have a great design but we cannot figure it out. Plans up there are too great for understanding down here. God guarantees nothing, neither a long life nor an easy death. He only assures us work.” And then, he invariably summed up his philosophizing as if he were speaking to himself by saying, “So keep your head down. Keep pounding. And make sparks fly.”

Even though the majority conceded for the moment the truth of what Carlo said, they picked and pried at the meaning of every odd thing that came their way to find out what was in store for them. Furthermore, omens abounded and portended. Signs of death clustered everywhere, and one could bring bad luck so many ways. Even sweeping all the dust out of one’s house might open the door to bad spirits. Day witnessed strange messengers of bad news — a bird perching on the window or, worse, a sure sign of death, a bird flying into a house. Night brought the mournful hooting of an owl, baying of a dog and dreams of weddings and children telling of their opposite, death.

The wearing of amulets around their neck, the hanging of garlic and pictures of saints in their homes, the sprinkling of salt on the threshold or the hanging of bright horns over one’s front door could not keep evil at bay.

Anna knew gossip’s wagging tongue. She didn’t need to be reminded that people and donkeys are the same wherever you find them. Already ostracized in her home village, how could she, a stranger and unmarried mother, living in the shed and garden of the witch on the outskirts of town expect not to fall under dark clouds in Montamaggiore Belsito, ten miles up the curving road from Termini Immersi and thirty miles southeast of Palermo?

When Ziu Sebastianu wrote from Pennsylvania giving her permanent use of his dead sister’s garden in Montamaggiore, Anna knew she would be considered the new snake in it. But still she didn’t hesitate a second to accept his and Paulina’s offer after everything she had experienced in the last six years since her father, the lord and doctor of La Valle dell’ Olmo, had banished her from her home to a shack at the back of the family estate. Their offer came as the first flicker of hope in a long dark tunnel since she had been raped by a cousin and responded by categorically refusing to marry him and chose not to have an abortion. She ferociously stood her ground, even after the young count beseeched her in public to marry him and her father publicly consented to the marriage. Her defiance poured out of her eyes and flowed from every gesture her graceful body made. She truly was mafiosa.

Up to the night of the rape, the world had been hers. Fickle fortuna smiled on her. The oldest and favorite child of the town’s doctor, she was handsome, intelligent and, most important of all, spirited. In school there was no subject at which she did not shine, but she was keenest at mathematics, the natural sciences and drawing.

Called Leonarda in the Valle dell’ Olmo, she took to her father’s profession better than any imagined son could have. She especially enjoyed doing his autopsies. She showed the finesse of an experienced hand with her father’s new stainless knives and instruments. It was expected by all — teachers, parents, and villagers — that she would go to the University of Palermo and study medicine, an expectation she was on the eve of fulfilling when the rape occurred.

In fact, the night Anna was violated she was descending from her father’s stable above town. She had spent the whole day there dissecting and drawing the parts of a dead horse her father had given her as a gift for her eighteenth birthday. Fascinated by the valves and muscle tissue of the horse’s heart, she stayed on drawing that night under the flickering light of the lantern.

No sooner did she leave the stable than her cousin approached her and tried out a few clumsy memorized romantic praises. When she didn’t respond, he pounced on her. Tall and strong, he overwhelmed her. First she was paralyzed by surprise and finally subdued by his protracted force. She bit and clawed him, as scratches on his face, neck and ears testified. No one doubted that if she had not left her knife in the stable, she would have cut him to ribbons.

He knew that he would have to rape her to have her. No one who had ever been in their presence was unaware that as he was attracted to her, so she was repulsed by him. The more he pushed himself toward her, the more she retreated. Like magnets — “come magneti,” remarked Benedettu Semplica. “His eyes clung to her like prickers to pants.” Her indifference to him only heated his desire to have her. The idea that she did not find him — tall, blond and rich — attractive made him crazy with anger. His whole body yearned for her more and more as the day of departure for the university drew closer and closer. The one time he had gathered courage to ask her father’s permission to court her, she trumped her father’s tentative yes with an emphatic no.

After the rape, he did everything he could to win her over. Some said it was then he went mad. He frequently got publicly drunk and went around town saying that one day she would truly love him. He sent her flowers, messages and a raft of plagiarized poems. His complexion grew more ashen as her refusal grew with each day more certain. With her pregnancy showing, which she did not disguise, he killed himself with his shotgun. As a punishment for failing to marry and shaming her family, Anna was exiled to live in the stable where she had performed her autopsies.

Knowing nothing of all this in Montemaggiore, the villagers waited for her powers, whatever they might be, to manifest themselves. She was like a sky auguring a storm, a wind-swept landscape announcing a coming drama. But nothing dramatic broke forth. Rather, trepidations were tamped down by her benign and humble actions. She cured a neighbor’s wheezing donkey by feeding him a special mixture of plants. She stopped the profuse bleeding of a child with compacts, a splint and a few stitches. She set the foot of another child, who suffered a compound fracture of the ankle, when no doctor was available. Upon later seeing her work, he openly confessed he could have done no better. She helped new mothers learn to nurse their babies by putting honey on their nipples. She encouraged one mother to put a bonnet on her jaundiced baby and set it in the sunlight for half an hour every day. The baby’s eventual beautiful complexion shined with a testimony to Anna’s good powers.

Soon, on Sunday afternoons, individuals in need of help formed a steady stream between village and her shack. Anna was required to add a few chairs to her small patio — and, with a rope and a few posts, she staked out a waiting area adjacent to the garden for her clients. Benedettu declared, "Witch or not, she is as busy as the priest during Easter season.” When individuals from other villages began to make Sunday pilgrimages to her, local people began to count her cures as miracles. The curious began to hang around her shack just to see and hear what cures she might perform. She did little in her garden that wasn’t almost immediately on the town square.

With more people came a parade of human somatic and mental maladies. One supplicant worried about the effects of a curse on his daughter. Another worried about a mysterious disease among his chickens, while yet a third had suffered constipation for almost a month. One father came worried about the imminent military conscription of his only son. A young woman pregnant for the first time wondered about the screaming she heard from the child within her womb.

Anna first asked her clients and petitioners to make an offering — a sum of money, a few coins, a chicken or two, a bag of fennel or some olive oil — nor at least say a prayer for her. Then she had her clients tell their stories twice, once without interrupting them. She allowed them to pour out their pent-up emotions, fears and wishes. The second time she forced them to slow down and directly, slowly and methodically, to describe their conditions, wants, and fears as precisely as they could.

Unwittingly at first and then as a conscious system, she began to classify her clients, whose condition was usually revealed by posture, gesture, eyes, first words or tone of voice. First, and easiest to deal with, there were those who needed a few encouraging words — pocu curaggiu — or basic treatment with simple home remedies of teas, herbs and dietary regimes. Some of their group was often treated best with a proverb or joke. Her favorite curing phrase, always worth a smile, was “Cu’mancia, fa caca.” (“Who eats, shits.”)

To cheer up her women in their endless duties, she repeated pure old sayings as “Every nose fits its face.” (“Ogni nosu sta bedeu a so facci”.) and “The wife makes or destroys the home” (“A femmina fa, or disfa, la casa”.). At the other extreme stood her most difficult cases, which she called to herself i casi mali di male; they included cases of the malaffurtunati and malagguriu (the misfortunate and ill-omened), and then the malanimu, malavogghia, malcontentu, and malancuniusu, that is the bad spirited, the nasty willed, the discontented and the melancholy. There were those who in despair sucked the energy from her and all those around them.

In turn, there were the abandoned, mutilated, crippled, truly ugly and the dying. They suffered what no one could repair. She listened to their tales of woe only once, allowing them to cry and curse as much as they wished on the way to completing them. Then, when they were through, she told them, repeating, as if fresh, a little sermon to abandon their search for help from humans. She told them to lament their condition as much as they needed and wanted, and leave it to Heaven to do now and later what it would. For no matter what we think, only the God of Abraham and Christ can turn stones into people.

Others came with conditions, which only time could salve. There were those with hearts on fire. They wanted to kill someone — in their household or family, or a landlord or merchant who had cheated them. She soothed them; whatever season it was, she told them to wait a season, each of which, she said, held an advantage. In spring, life is the stem. In the fall, the strongest trees bend, but do not break in the winds.

Slowly but surely, her success won her an endearing nickname, Augurina — the little prophet. Her cures and advice and good will transformed suspicion into reliance. Her name spread through the region to smaller towns around.

Realizing her success could provoke jealousy among doctors, she was quick to refer patients to regional doctors. At the same time, she refused to offer opinions on land contracts, property disputes, arguments over wills, taxes and village affairs. And fearing the powers of the local priest, she went out of her way to send those who had troubles with the church, God, any of the saints or a remorseful conscience to him. Except those she took to be incurably ill, to whom she advised surrendering to the will of God, she let the priest offer advice about lighting candles, penance and pilgrimages to Cefalù, Monreale, Palermo and Mount Pellegrino with its Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia.

However, she threw caution to the wind when it came to advising individuals who asked her whether they should stay or leave Montamaggiore Belsito. On this matter she was near reckless with her advice. Most often she started with the firm directive, “Go! Va via!” And she continued, “In these mountains, in this village, things only stay the same. No one gets more land or more money, only work and scarcity. Everyone will get more poverty, disease and misery.” When they asked about immigrating to America, it was as if they plugged her into electricity; she lit up with energy. She commanded, “Avanti! Avanti! Curaggio. Conform your actions to your dreams,” she counseled. “Here there are too many for too little! Here our children will spend their lives in the mountains and farming between the rocks. Only in folktales,” Anna invariably added, “do small gardens grow miracles and magic beans grow ladders into heaven.”

In advocating emigration, Augurina joined the side of a vast movement that swept the Madonie, all of Sicily and southern Italy. The hour of departure was at hand. The people she told to go away wanted to go away. They were drawn by the tides of the sea below. In counseling emigration, Anna confirmed desires. As if christened by her passionate words, her clients left her patio with a spring in their step and sparkle in their eyes. They would blurt out to the first person they encountered on the road, even when not asked, “We will go. We will start a new life in America.” Indeed, it was for this advice that Anna picked up the nickname Augurina and this name and her fame spread up and down the mountain slope as families of the ambitious poor rushed to start a better life in America. “Augurina m’a dettu!” was a phrase that increasingly resonated through the villages of the Madonie.

In the course of three years, Augurina’s reputation grew. Her consultations went from one day to six days a week. Her life and her daughter’s improved. She turned the small payments that often came to her in the form of bread, eggs, chickens, produce and embroidered linen into money that she used as down payments on small connecting plots at the south end of town where she grew vegetables and artichokes and started a small olive orchard. In turn, she mortgaged these lands to borrow money to make additional down payments on other adjoining fields. When she added a second mule, cart and two hired hands, she began regularly to transport emigrants and agricultural produce down the mountain to Palermo and occasional visitors and new goods up the mountain.

Aside from taking her daughter on holidays back and forth to the church school at Santa Rosalia in Cefalù, haulage became an integral part of her business. She delivered emigrants to port and delivered goods from Palermo and the nearer port of Termini Imerese. Saving the expense and chicanery of the middleman, she took her own crops directly to market and established and maintained stalls in Palermo’s Vucciria market for her own crops. Special deliveries up and down the valley — which included everything from urgent love letters to a grand piano — also added money to her coffers. As a paved road, hand and hand with increased commerce, steadily advanced its way along the coast and toward the bivio, the crossroads, and the winding dirt and rock roads that led south and up the steady incline to Cerda, then small Aliminusa and Montemaggiore Belsito, a dream awoke within her.

She would welcome the new traffic, which she believed would eventually come from below, with an inn and tavern that would stand at the northern entrance of Montamaggiore. Borrowing all the money she could, she flung herself into the project to make her dream come true. She consistently chose the best unwittingly as she planned her ten-room inn and the tavern, which more and more resembled a restaurant, with décor she bought in Palermo. Nothing equaled in extravagance the small crystal chandelier she purchased from an antiquities dealer.

For reasons buried in Palermo’s bureaucracy, work stalled on the paved road and then came to a dead standstill. What had seemed at first a race along the coast abruptly halted and sunk in Sicily’s ever-gathering oblivion. Augurina could not even find an official to discuss the plight of the road. Giving as good as explanation as any, Cucuzza declared, “The black serpent is too lazy to climb the mountain.”

Augurina’s creation was dead on the vine. Daily, she opened the door of her inn and tavern to no one. The locals stared at her building, as if a dead whale had washed up on southern beach of town. Few ventured to eat at her place and many of her clients stopped coming to seek her advice. They were at first amazed at and then resented the fact that their Augurina could have been so stupid and fail so miserably. Every time they saw the building they grew angry and ashamed, betrayed by their leader.

Failure awoke a pride that drove Augurina desperately to try to force the future. Captive of her own will, she committed herself to complete the inn and tavern. There was no one to tell her to stop, to turn her dream off. Even if someone had told her, it would have made no difference. She was determined to finish what she had started. The tavern and inn were ultimately not built of stone, wood and glass. They were constructed out of her desire to regain her innocence, to get her revenge against this world, which had again betrayed her.

Like the losing gambler, her mounting debt drove her to gamble more and more. She was forced to sell off her land, then her mules and carts, and finally, she recalled her daughter from school. What she had built in the course of ten years had come unraveled and turned to shambles in two. The word spread, “Augurina foretold everyone’s fortune but her own.” All enjoyed the story of the fortuneteller who misread her own fortune.

Disrespect for Augurina spread. Fewer and fewer relied on Augurina’s services or advice. Up and down the valley, people spoke of “the auguress who couldn’t augur.” Cucuzz got it right when he joked she went from a shed to palace to hut. Augurina and her daughter were again disconnected from the town. They were reduced to tending their garden and chickens out back of the inherited shed and garden. The inn and tavern and everything else given over in mortgage had been confiscated by creditors.

Again a letter from Sebastianu and Paulina had changed her fortune. She would send Angelina, now twenty years old, to America. Although the letter contained two tickets, Anna sold one and gave the extra money from her ticket to Angelina. It didn’t matter to Augurina that Angelina wanted to stay with her; she was inflexible — her daughter would leave this accursed land for America. And she promised, not quite believing what she said, that she would come later, soon, to join her.

When the day of departure arrived, Anna prepared Angelina for the cart that would take her to Palermo. After loading her trunk and case, she brought out from hiding the great crystal chandelier and loaded it, instructing Angelina, “Sell this in Palermo before you board the ship, pay the driver whatever you owe and use what is left for a new life in America.” As Angelina waved from the cart, which swayed and bumped its way around the first curve, the morning’s light was caught and reflected back by the moving crystals of the chandelier. The glimmering sea waited below.