Campbell Corner Language Exchange

The Poetry of Nicholas Giosa

In Remembrance of Dr. Ettore Cuffari

A Rumination

In Remembrance of Dr. Ettore Cuffari

Now, more than sixty years have passed
since you loomed large and formidable
in our classroom; a soaring bridge
to help us span the conjugation of essere, to be:
io sono, tu sei, lei e, noi siamo...;
our Virgil, as we prepared to plunge
into the abyss of a second language.

We were hardly pilgrims in search
of Holy Writ or immutable wisdom,
or lost in the middle of our journey;
we were barely undiapered, waifs of the depression-
when a haircut and a shave were two bits-
who were just knocking on the door,
seeking entry into an unvarnished world.

Your Ph.D and thick coke-bottle glasses
gave testimony to your passion for learning,
spoke of your rich Italian history,
your understanding of the trajectory of language
and the quandary of the human masquerade.

Beyond the use of the past perfect tenses,
conjunctive personal pronouns,
the government of the infinitive,
by the pamphlets you composed and had us read,
you pulled us through your looking glass
into a garden of wonder: of first-met
poets, artisans and imposing monuments.

You laid upon us a litany of players
that left our minds agape, when you allowed
us to walk through the portal of your pantheon.
It was at your feet that we heard for the first
time, of the inventions of the banished Florentine,
which he culled form the confusions of this world
and mirrored in the nine circles of hell-
all bared in terza rima.

You extolled the names of the truly great
of former eons, like a pealing bell
from a cathedral's stately tower.
You praised Boccaccio's bawdy Decameron
and Brunelleschi's dome; through your eyes
we gazed at Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise"
at the Baptistry of San Giovanni;
we pondered the masterly and curious Leonardo
and the ranging talents of Michelangelo;
we thrilled with Galileo who sought truth
through observation and came upon
the turning moons of Jupiter;
and on and on you chimed
of the Titans of another time.

But you were rooted in the present tense,
as well. In your first encounter with the class,
you said, "You are here in school to stay
out of prison." That got our attention.
We weren't sure if you were putting us on,
but we were more than certain, you were not,
when, as you were intoning the more recent creations
of Italian ingenuity, listing Marconi, Fermi
and Montessori, you heard Alfredo Marzetti
mutter, sotto voce, from the back of the room,
"and the Mafiosi." You strode to his seat,
seized him, slammed him against the wall,
put a knee to his groin, and hissed,
"Don't you ever dare say that again."
You froze us with awe.

You taught us beyond our pubescent days:
words and ideas you aired, rained upon
our innocence, seemingly fell upon unseasoned ground,
like spilled seeds, that only in the remembrance
of later years, flowered in our understanding.

If I could reassemble your bones,
give breath to your soul and unhinge your tongue,
I'd sit once more at your feet,
a novice and debtor in renewed veneration, again
seeking guidance for the straight way
for the journey that yet remains,
in these, our waning days.

A Rumination


We dwell on it,
Trod its debatable pathways,
Labor to know its animus:
Probing its innermost depths,
Moving stones of refusal.

We clutch at it,
Run it through the fingers
Of our ruminations;
Our tears fill its rivers and streams
In whose moving waters we nakedly
Seek a baptism of new beginnings,
Aware of the eye of Time
That is always above us,
Measuring the length of our shadow-
Turning the seasons.

It nourishes us-
Gives us its grasses and bread;
We cherish its fruit,
The transcendence of its flowers.

It ultimately consumes us-
This enterprise of awareness,
This matter of being,
This poem of earth