MEMOIR  by Krystyan Panzica



Excerpt (A Heritage)

from A Heritage, pages 1-2
(essays and poetry)
Gate Five Press, Sausalito, 1999

  Krystyan Panzica: A Heritage

             St’autru tirrimotu cci vulia:
                Distruzioni petra supra petra,
                Macchii di sangu sutta li cantuna
                Li morti ristaru a munzidduna,
                Giuvini, vecchi e picciriddi
                Strutti di lu travagghiu e di lu sonnu
                Locchi spalancati di dda notti
                Nun vittiru cchi— luci di lu iornu.

My paternal grandmother and grandfather were born in a medieval mountain village in Sicily at the end of the nineteenth century. When they arrived in New York City, they were still infants. She was the first of nine brothers and sisters, he was the first of three. My affection for Sicilian dialect (See the above epigraph: the second stanza of Serafino Culcasi’s epic poem Lu Tirrimotu, or Il Terremoto.) grew from hearing great-grandparents who had never spoken English. Neither my father, nor his father, spoke more than a few words of Italian, though both of them had always lived in a Sicilian-American neighborhood in Western New York.

Two years after my father’s death, and two months after my eighteenth birthday, I left my Latvian-born mother — my first name is derived from her father’s first name and the home we shared with my father’s parents and younger sister. At the time, I spoke no Italian and had not read an English translation of either an Italian or a Sicilian poem or story.

I was studying Italian in college when I attended a meeting of a Dante Alegheri Society. Unlike the Romulus Club, the first Italian-American organization I had encountered, I heard no Sicilian at the DAS.

Not long before I received a B.A. in English, I visited the flat of an aspiring novelist, whom I had met in Sunday school. Without considering whether or not he was an outdoorsman, I was in awe of his typewriter and his plaid, flannel shirt. They turned out to be omens for the solitary craftsmanship I was about to embrace.

The coffee-house culture I had begun to sip yielded two serious, local poets. One of them regaled me with his knowledge of contemporary, American poets, and the other inspired me to finish reading my John Ciardi-translated Divine Comedy. But it was not until I myself had written a few poems, short stories, and articles that, quite by chance, I read in a newspaper the Sicilian poet Salvatore Quasimodo “won” the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his dual-language, i.e., English and Italian (with no trace of Sicilian dialect) Collected Poems, the following was my favorite.



Life is not a dream         

“Precious mother, now the mists are descending.
The Naviglio thrusts disorderly on the locks;
the trees swell with water, burn with snow.
I am not unhappy in the north.
I am not at peace with myself;
but I seek pardon from no one;
and the many debts of tears
that are owed to me
can only be paid face to face.
I know you are ailing
and live like all mothers of poets,
poor and just in the measure
of their love for distant sons.
Today it is I who write to you.”
At last, you will say, a line from the boy
who ran away at night in a skimpy coat ...

© Kristyan Panzica, 1999




A Heritage is a basic chapbook, printed on white opaque paper with a tan laser-printed, bristol vellum cover. To see an enlargement of the cover, click on image above.

28 pages


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