Now That I Am Dead

Now That I Am Dead

I have so much to tell you,
now that I am dead.

I left my native soil in 1895 to seek
a land as warm as gold, as rich
as mother’s milk, its name Italian
as my own:
Named for my countryman,
Amerigo, the map maker.

I learned this from the voices of
the other dead.

I was one of 14 million.
They called it a diaspora.
I did not know the meaning
of that word
in my lifetime.

The dead know so much more
than the living.

How could I have known?
What does a leaf know
of all the other leaves
on all the outstretched arms
of downy oaks?
What does a leaf care if it is
one of 14 million?
It simply goes about its day,
bending in the wind,
cupping the rain.
Doing what it must do
to stay alive.

I would not have left my home,
had there been food.
With only half enough to feed us,
half of us must go.

And so, I ate six thousand miles.
I ate the Apennines and the Alps,
devoured the French lavender fields,
the sands of Normandie. I ate the swill
of rank steerage and saltwater,
drank the sweat and grit of huddled
passengers who sailed with me
from LeHavre to Ellis Island.

Although I could not read or write,
the words were branded
on my strong back. They said,
I will build your bridges
and pave your highways.
Split the stone in your quarries.
Cobble your leather shoes.
I will work for food.

I came to eat at your table,
Lady America. I came to sit,
elbow to elbow, with boat people
and caravan walkers.
Those who came with bare feet
and sacks of hunger.
Even the caged and the stolen ones.
I share my bread with them.
I hold on my lap
the little Guatemalan girls
who died at your armored gates.

At the table of the dead,
what is there between us?

Even though I am dead,
my bones still creak and thirst
for greenish olive oil.
My empty rib cage still encases
whiffs of Apennine air.
My crumbling tongue begs
the tint and dew of blood-colored
wine. And cured flesh of fatty hog—
it, too, as red as wine.

But most of all, my body craves
the crumpled green cloth of mountain slopes
I once knew,
as comforting as cornmeal porridge
to feed my
immortal hunger.


Photo by Manan on Unsplash