In Remembrance of
Dr. Ettore Cuffari
Now, more than sixty years
since you loomed large and formidable
in our classroom; a soaring bridge
to help us span the conjugation of essere,
tu sei, lei e, noi siamo...;
Virgil, as we prepared to plunge
abyss of a second language.
We were hardly pilgrims in
of Holy Writ or immutable wisdom,
or lost in the middle of our journey;
we were barely undiapered, waifs of the
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
gave testimony to your passion for
spoke of your rich Italian history,
your understanding of the trajectory of
and the quandary of the human masquerade.
Beyond the use of the past
conjunctive personal pronouns,
the government of the infinitive,
by the pamphlets you composed and had us
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
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
time, of the inventions of the banished
which he culled form the confusions of this
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
as well. In your first encounter with the
you said, "You are here in school to
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
when, as you were intoning the more recent
of Italian ingenuity, listing Marconi, Fermi
and Montessori, you heard Alfredo Marzetti
mutter, sotto voce, from the back of the
"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
words and ideas you aired, rained upon
our innocence, seemingly fell upon unseasoned
like spilled seeds, that only in the remembrance
of later years, flowered in our understanding.
If I could reassemble your
give breath to your soul and unhinge your
I'd sit once more at your feet,
a novice and debtor in renewed veneration,
seeking guidance for the straight way
for the journey that yet remains,
in these, our waning days.
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
In whose moving waters we nakedly
Seek a baptism of new beginnings,
of the eye of Time
That is always above
Measuring the length of our shadow-
It nourishes us-
Gives us its grasses and
We cherish its fruit,
transcendence of its flowers.
It ultimately consumes us-
This enterprise of awareness,
This matter of being,
This poem of earth