Here’s today’s prompt:
And now for our (optional) prompt! Today I’d like to challenge you to write an elegy – a poem that mourns or honors someone dead or something gone by. And I’d like to ask you to center the elegy on an unusual fact about the person or thing being mourned. For example, if you are writing an elegy about your grandfather, perhaps the poem could be centered around a signature phrase of his. (My own grandfather used to justify whatever he was doing by saying, “well, I can’t sing or dance, and it’s too wet to plow,” which baffled me considerably as a child). Or perhaps your Aunt Lily always unconsciously whistled between her teeth while engaged in her daily battle with the crossword puzzle. These types of details paradoxically breathe life into an elegy, making the mourned person real for the reader.
This one is a little tricky since I’m writing an elegy for someone I never met – my husband’s great grandmother who immigrated to western Pennsylvania from Italy in 1897. Custode Iacobucci was 16 years old when she made the journey from her home in the mountains of Abruzzo, Italy with her older sister Rosalia. Two older brothers were already in Pennsylvania, another followed later that year.
Within two years she was married and began a family. By 1912, when her husband deserted her, she had nine children. She never remarried. Four of her six sons became pharmacists. Many of her grandchildren and great grandchildren are teachers, doctors and lawyers. Children who never knew her have what they have – and are what they are – because of her courage and determination.
Elegy for Custode
How can I mourn what I do not know?
I mourn the not knowing.
I mourn the empty places and missing faces,
the mystery and missing family history.
The stories I never heard.
The legends I never learned.
I mourn the hardship of your life
The loves you lost – your heartache and pain.
But in the mourning I celebrate the legacy you left behind.
A legacy of strength, courage and determination.
Of the home you left when just a girl,
of hillside caverns, grazing sheep
in the shadow of Maiella.
The innocence you lost, the price you paid.
The child you lost, the sons you raised.
The many nights you wept alone
then faced the morning cold as stone.
I mourn the secrets locked within your hidden smile.
of ancient strega ways and secret spells.
I mourn the times you ached to be soft
but life made you hard – harder than you ever wanted to be.
For never taking less than you deserved
Undeterred, resolute warrior for those you loved.
I celebrate the broken pieces of your heart,
scattered among the gifts you’ll never see.
The wisdom and the strength you left behind
in those of yours who share their lives with me.
© 2017 Kalen Kingsbury