old

nicolamaria

old

 

when I was a kid

old was nonno 

sleeping in the dining room turned into bedroom

asthmatic old man

who couldn’t climb stairs

or get out of bed 

barely five-foot tall

olive-skinned

dark-eyed man who spoke no english

who sometimes didn’t remember my name

who amazed me

because he was so old 

old as the old country

my family always talked about

old as god

and just as powerful

 

old was nonna 

we were forced to kiss

on the lips

when we went to my aunt anna 

and uncle joe’s house

she who smelled like a cellar

who mumbled words

no one could understand

lying in her bed

hands on the top of the covers

clutching a black-beaded rosary

that her mother once used to recite

her prayers

mama said nonna had powers

and we believed her

 

old was la via vecchia

the old ways

food prepared from early morning

pasta e fagioli

basil growing in the yard

processions to la madonna in May

solemn mass on christmas eve

things ancient

as nonna’s hands

I once tried to count the lines

but there were too many

the old people 

the old ways

were connections to where we came from

who we were

 

in this queer tribe

where I live now

there’re no elders to be kissed on the lips 

no wrinkled hands to be clutched

no beads passed down

no old country

few people remember where we came from

who we were

 

old is a

road

the young pray

they never

travel down

 

originally published in Philadelphia Poets, Volume 13, 2007, also in Intergeneration: Building Queer Community across the Ages through Art, 2002.