My Grandmother's Words
The time poetry showed me my grandmother.
Illustration by Jess Smart Smiley
Her name was Giovanna, but to me, she was Nanni, an Italian-American ode to “nonna,” or “grandmother” in the native tongue. Short and strong, she was once the sole overseer of six children, and later the benevolent babysitter of six grandchildren, myself luckily included.
It was in a narrow, two-floor townhouse in Queens where her five daughters and only son became adults: some leaving, others staying, but all returning for visits, or grandchildren drop-offs. Her dining room was made of sunlight from the backyard, with high, chipped ceilings. An upstairs bedroom doubled as a perfumery. While she cooked, radio crackles from 1010 WINS informed us: “You give us twenty-two minutes, we’ll give you the world.”
As a young boy, my regular route with Nanni was from a Catholic church at the end of the block, where she read aloud from the Gospel and socialized, to the colorful fruit markets lining Liberty Avenue. Back at home, she would hum and whistle along to Lo…