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FOR MARIA ONETO
# — on the occasion of her one-hundredth birthday

#I
Picture an evening ninety years ago:
Genova in springtime; small boats,
returning home, lightly knock against
the calm of Il Mare Liguria;
Piazetta San Matteo, empty now,
delicate pink palaces on the Via Balbi,
background mountains catching the late sun —
they exact a hush so that even the sea
chides the noisy stones.
A girl, Maria, lighter than calls of birds,
races lace-lined waves
until a scudding cloud menagerie
shadows the inlet which contains this scene.
And though the sun will lower soon
to fire the leaves of olive trees,
it is already late.

#II
Now picture an evening only weeks ago:
a room in New Haven with big chairs
and a tiny, century-old woman. My sons wrestle
on the floor near her swollen feet
and will not be instructed to take care.
When she speaks, I do not understand,
and when I talk, she cannot hear.
So our conversation goes on — she sings, I roar.
Clumsy aunts come to rescue her,
to help her move from room to room,
hoping for chairs in the right place,
for scattered rugs to obey their feet.
I do not help because I fear such fragility.
A stupid suitor afraid to touch the one he loves,
I am in awe of her, of what she knows.

#III
So what is left for us to give but praise?
I write for her who cannot read,
say lines for her who cannot hear.
It is otherwise only a matter now
of waiting and courage and listening:
for lap of waves upon Ligurian shores,
for knock of boats against the homely piers,
for cries of birds against the pressing dark.



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