The Elderly Woman on the Bus

The elderly woman on the bus sitting beside her husband
looks like my grandmother:
her eyes, the high cheekbones, the restrained smile;
her chignon is white with traces of faded blonde—

My grandmother’s bun was white too, coiled and braided, once black or dark brown—
the submissive wife of a Sicilian paterfamilias,
Don Carmelo slept with a knife under his pillow at night—
he’d kill her if—
she looked at herself in the mirror— for she was looking at her reflection
for another man, his secret eyes upon her.
Dare her lips touch red lipstick!

My grandmother made a perfect bed
and her drawers were tidy.
She averted her eyes when in a film a man and a woman
entwined in a kiss
and we laughed for her modesty and sense of shame.
She poured body and soul in the meals she cooked,
a gentle stir of the broth, the salt just right.

A tree that does not bear fruit must be cut down! —Don Carmelo
Her womb swelled eleven times.
Twice he cursed il duce in public.
Twice she stepped out in her dark shawl, her face well-chiseled, to convince
the fascist police to free him from prison for he was just an illiterate baker
and had a shrapnel wound in the heart from the great war.

The elderly woman and her husband get up to exit at their stop.
I have not averted my glance from her, my ancestor’s double in
another country, another continent. Shall I compliment her?

Madam, you look like my beautiful grandmother.
She smiles, restrained; and pleased, her husband escorts her,
his winged victory.

Silvia Falsaperla’s poems have appeared in Make it New Magazine, (2019), Ezra’s Book (2019), People, Places, Passages: An Anthology of Canadian Writing (2018), and Italian Canadiana (2020). She is currently working on her first collection of poetry.

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