words by Giovanna Riccio

I can still see the oak floor
the teacher unrolling my r’s
clipping my nameā€”Joan.

Joan? I don’t know if that blunt
one-syllable turned my head,
but everywhere English flattened Italian,
and when my father snipped
my impractical long hair, I looked away,
pretended those orphaned ringlets
belonged to someone else.

Blonde, blue-eyed goddesses
who never ate garlic filled the temples
of the Golden Book Encyclopedia,
the face of Ancient Rome
belonged to our teacher now,
but blinded statues in pictures, old sun
threaded in the cracks of fallen ruins
were calling me.

Later, my fingers clutched
the boarding pass, I remember the airplane
lifting me to a warm unknowing sleep,
sudden morning opening onto old stone,
July heat rusting on palm trees, wind cupped
in the umbrella pines and everywhere taxis.

I rode
back into my dusty body, into Rome’s
dusky fall echoing in the stone,

From the Italian stone
my numbed blood flowed naturally,
I heard my name calling from
the balcony, Giovanna
our old house-bound language, free
in the rowdy streets, songs we hummed
sottovoce singing at the top of their voices.

I rested, leaning
on the smoky marble’s mineral veins.

Impossible stone flowed
everywhere that summer,
familiar figures I had never seen before
gestured to me from the rooftops
and because I could accept the gesture
the blunt sounds softened,
my tongue, my bones, grew more porous
and the child I had locked away
flowed out of the hardness into my voice
and gave me my name.