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RAFFAELA AT EIGHTEEN by Marisa Frasca

May 28, 2015

Marisa Frasca

        Marisa Frasca read this gripping poem during her recent feature at GainVille Café. It tells a terrific and horrific story of a Sicilian woman giving premature birth caused by bombs falling from an American air raid in World War II (the Nazis controlled Sicily until 1943). Raffaela is increasingly distraught as the runtlike baby will not nurse and is in peril of dying and she has no outlet for her milk. What I really like is the turn Frasca gives the poem at the end. The woeful story devolves into a whole series of positive things about the world, the yang to the desolate yin of war. She has told me, btw, that Raffaela is her mother and the runt her brother, who survived his difficult birth and is still alive today.—Mark Fogarty
                                  
                                  
Raffaela at Eighteen

Raffaela hid under the olivewood
                                   Farmtable made by ancestor sweat—
                                  

Squeezed hard her ears and legs
                                   But the bombs, the dread, the labor pain
Could not hold her firstborn in
                                  
                                  
He flew out from under the table’s woodgrain
                                   Weighed less than a head of cabbage
                                  
                                  
Raffaela later said her boy resembled a ferret—
                                   Hair covered all except palms and soles
                                  
                                  
Her husband kept the runt swaddled in gauze and total darkness
                                   Inside a cotton-covered dresser drawer
                                  
                                  
When his eyes rested—a moment of freeze—he asked his wife
                                   What is this thing?
                                  
                                  
More bombs fell on Vittoria’s rooftops—
                                   Stampedes and shrills stormed dustclouded streets
                                  
                                  
Mediterranean sea lanes opened for an Allied Armada of 2,590
And The US Liberty hit by enemy bombers exploded off Gela in l943
                                  
                                  
Raffaela’s back let down, but her silk-soft nipples could not
                                   Coax the limp mouth to eat
                                  
                                  
Some neighbors abandoned their homes, others sought shelter
                                   Through half swung doors
                                  
                                  
Raffaela sat silent and cross-legged, keeping vigil by the drawer
                                  
                                  
Eventually she rose
                                   There was sunlight in the courtyard
                                  
                                  
And a German rifle tracking movement from a tree
                                  
                                  
                                   All Raffaela could do is urge and urge
The bitch with litter—
                                   Could she borrow one hungry pup?
                                  
                                   Could it suck and suck until blood oozed
                                  
                                   Until its teeth erected her human nipples like cathedrals?
                                  
                                  
All she knew is somewhere a world away was no mania to destroy
But to feed—none whimpered and whined from hunger
                                  
Women drew water from wells to quench a stranger’s thirst—
                                   Garlic, onion, drying figs hung on kitchen walls
                                  
Somewhere frugal hands mended socks and celebrated love—
                                   Infants nursed and slept in cradles
Wind carried sounds from nearby villages
                                   Of men and women churning wheat
And delicate saffron crocus poked through black lava,
                                   Orange calendula grew in open fields
                                  
Where cows with thick hides and swollen udders
                                   Shook away bullet-ridden parachutes
                                  
And falling bombs
                                   Like flies
 

“Raffaela at Eighteen” has been published in 5 AM and also in Marisa Frasca’s collection Via Incanto: Poems from the Darkroom from Bordighera Press.

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