My first poem ever was printed in my school district newsletter when I was eight years old. It was only a four-line ditty about April Fool’s Day, but I was hooked. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

Over the years, I have had a career in advertising and business-to-business writing; have published two books of essays; I’ve written one play and co-written another; and in 2009, I started writing a blog about my love of travel, which has led to newspaper and magazine assignments as well.

I love to write about the places I’ve been. In fact, my second book, Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband, was a collection of essays and poems about our travels to Italy, France and various places in the United States. In the Italy section I wrote about fantastic cities and lesser-known towns including Positano, Sermide, Capri, Sorrento, Florence, Letojanni, Camoglie; Italian travel in general; as well as my sometimes awkward relationship with my Italian family.

But nowhere did Abruzzo appear. I had not even been to Abruzzo when the book came out. So now that I’ve been back five times and bought an apartment here in Sulmona… what’s the problem? Where are the Abruzzo poems? Maybe I’m too cowed by Ovidio and D’Annunzio?

I’m not really sure, but I think it may have something to do with Abruzzo in particular, and Sulmona, specifically, being just too much. Too much (unexplained) familiarity, too much of a pull on the heart strings, too much to take in, too much to miss when I go back home. I have kept my poetic distance until recently, and that’s what I want to share with you.

Day-to-day life often gets in the way of the creative process, so this January I took myself to New York City for a little R&R. That might seem like an odd choice – planning a writing get-away in the busiest city on the planet — but for me New York is home, and the streetlights and car horns and buses’ noisy air brakes are like a lullaby to me. The biggest snowfall to hit the northeast this year was not, however, and I spent a good deal of time worrying about whether I would be able to get back to Boston in a reasonable timeframe.

Still, I forged ahead and got a few poems about Abruzzo down. I consider them advanced drafts, meaning that they might change a bit, but I wanted to share them with readers who already love the place, or are at least in the exploratory phases of loving it. Herewith, a bit of Abruzzo in poetry . . .

 

Welcome to Sulmona

Somewhere in Abruzzo

Somewhere
in the bulb of the red garlic
in the tiny green lentil
in the kernel of the wheat
in the musty truffle

Somewhere
in the rind of the fragrant cheese
in the pressed ripe olive
in the seeds of the pomegranate
in the skin of the grape

Somewhere
in all these things
you can lose your way
and never notice
until it is too late to ever go back

 

 

Welcome to Sulmona

The Keys of L’Aquila

1,000 chiavi per riaprire la città

Some are covered with colored plastic half-moons
Red for the front door, yellow for the back
Maybe they belonged to the young light-hearted couple
Who have moved back into the mountains
To live with her parents

Others are on wire with maybe just a number
Indicating which building they belonged to
While others are on elaborate rings with tassels and
Cartoon animals, the children’s keys, perhaps
Although no one can say for certain now

The keys on the simple string belong to nonna
Who eschewed expense for such things
It opened the door to her grandfather’s house
Now rubble and dust, and she has moved on
In agony, a history displaced

The keys of L’Aquila are strung on a wire construction fence
A makeshift memorial, one thousand keys to repair the city
One thousand reasons to remember

When I was there, only their ghosts were present
Searching among the ruins for memories to unlock

 

 

Welcome to Sulmona

Louis Wanted a Walking Stick

So we drove an hour to the village of Caramanico

Off season, only two families still live there:
The walking stick maker and his children, who raise
English Bulldogs in the steep Italian countryside
We drove up, we arrived, we got out of the car
And were welcomed into his workshop, this man with
The ruined hands who swears he uses only the molted
Horns of deer, elk and such to make his sticks

Also in his workshop were chandeliers of horn
Sconces, too, and bits of ephemera
From the prettiest pieces

Louis held them all, sized them next to his body
Felt the local wood, the weight, considered the once
sparring horn and, choosing two, gave one to Peppe
and paid, whereupon

We were all invited next door, to the little house,
For homemade amaro and biscotti and we met
The whole damned family — nearly twenty of us
In this tiny room where a fire crackled and the girls   
Laughed and the Apple boxes were half unpacked

And the router was on the wall — the girls needed it
Because they went to college an hour away —
And it was all too much, up here on this mountain
With the magic walking stick maker and his fairy-tale family

And the English Bulldogs with their ears bobbed
And the little guild museum the family managed,
The Apennines all around and winter coming on
And Louis smiling, with his new walking stick

 

 

Welcome to Sulmona

Castel di Sangro

Mamma was sick

Her daughter thought better about
Coming on this trip at all, but
The idea of seeing where mamma was born
Won out in the end

Of course, a pilgrimage was required

A trip south was planned, over new roads,
The mountains impassable until recently.
No one from the family had ever come this way
Because it was unthinkable, hopeless

How the old ones ever left was a mystery

A few wrong turns and they arrived
The daughter and her husband
They parked, walked around, climbed the hill
To the church where mamma was baptized

The views were staggering from there

And when she caught her breath
She put a call into Cleveland from that place,
From the old stone steps that her mamma had walked
And when mamma picked up, the campanile erupted into song

Family, longing, despair, poverty, love —

All in those notes, all playing so that mamma could hear
From five thousand miles away, almost eighty years away
That the little village remembered, that it was
Calling her home

 

Buon viaggio!
Linda Dini Jenkins

About The Author

Linda Dini Jenkins
Travel the Right Way

Linda Dini Jenkins is a freelance writer who brings small groups of Americans to Italy every year. (Guess where her next tour will be?) She is an Italian-American whose grandfather came from Acquapendente, near Viterbo and whose grandmother came from Montano Antilia, near Salerno. She blogs about travel and writing at www.travelthewriteway.com

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