Grandma Josephine

My godmother tells me stories of my mother’s
mother, her aunt, called Pepina.
In her forties,
she climbed into a dumpster in the Bronx
to scrounge for food,
discovered a case of celery,
but not before the dumpster was hooked up
to be carted off,
stopped by her screams.

Grandma’s father was a daredevil,
jumped from one roof to the next in Sicily.
He hit his head, was left deaf.
Later, an accident
with a cart crippled him,
left him unable to work.
Grandma took a ship to America,
sponsored
by an uncle.
She never learned to read or write.
I remember Grandma strolling down

East 26th Street in Brooklyn on her walk
from the Sheepshead Bay subway station,
picking through trash cans,
selecting what still
had use: a cracked bowl,
boots carried under her arm.
My mother snatched her purse as soon
as she arrived,
wrapped it in double plastic bags and put it on the back porch

so the roaches crawling out wouldn’t
infest our house.
I caught Grandma straining
fresh clam juice through a kitchen washcloth
and tattled.
I never asked about her voyage
across the sea in 1917 or about her memories
of Ellis Island.
My mother said Grandma kissed
the ground when she stepped off the SS Patria.

 

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