The coughing double decker bus intruded my thoughts. I looked out my hotel window. All types of folk streamed on and off that sunrise bus. I saw them all stroll past the historical landmark pasted to my temporary home. I recall what the oval sign reported. “Senator Oliver St. John Gogarty, surgeon, poet, statesman, born in this house”. After a week of residence the immortal Gogarty still refused to provide me with even a morsel of muse. I recall waking and complaining to my wife,” A week here and you’d think he’d whisper inspiration into my ears, even in my dreams. Nothing.”
I looked out of my enormous red brick framed window while my visit came to an end. Giufà came to mind. Giufà in Ireland. I thought, was I losing it. I sat to proofread some of my poems. Giufà proved stubborn. He came to mind again and again. Was this inspiration finally coming from Gogarty? Why Guifà?
I sat at the flaking desk, looking out at the clanky street, and a sort of automatic writing seized control of my right hand. I wrote and wrote and wrote about Giufa’s tales, their lessons, and their impact on my life.
I didn’t have to wait for kindergarten to learn about life. My Momma, a metaphoric daughter of Dante, told me tales of the Sicilian fool Giufà well before my stuttering first steps in school. Momma used that fool Giufà as a teaching tool throughout my Brooklyn boyhood from those skinned knees sport days when I sat on her apron blanketed lap, until mamma’s last stormy days on earth when I knelt beside her bed, a cot that looked like a hitching post for rosaries. With a stream of moisture drizzling from my eyes, I sensed she had a silent Giufà story for that moment. I clutched her calloused hand and it squeezed and tightened its grasp on mine for one final time. That grip was all about love. Wet faced, I froze in place. For a few seconds, I visualized this slight Sicilian raconteur telling, retelling, and weaving Giufà yarns to inspire, to instruct, and to massage my melancholy.
These stories were spun as skillfully as her laced creations of fish net styled doilies sprawled out and occupying every couch in her crowded home. They always reminded me of lounging, lazy Angora cats. My mamma wove all those tales to guide me safely past life’s land mines. Behind that jester’s escapades, all sorts of lessons leapt out and captured the imagination. At the end of my toddler times, mamma tugged me onto her frail lap, raked her piano player fingers thru my ebony locks, and detailed accounts about this Sicilian clown dripped from her lips. Behind Giufa’s seemingly outrageous behavior, a lesson in life always emerged.
As the crude and impatient calendar raced and veered relentlessly past my youth, spiraling me toward senior citizen status, momma continued to share these tales, especially in my times of stress, even without the comfort and stage of her tattered and retired rocking chair. She repeated them to keep me focused. She frequently began, “Vene ca, figu mio (Come here my son).”After that invitation, I expected another educational treat, with a moral about living clearly attached.
Her comparing me to the buffoon Giufà made me aware of my mistakes.”My son, have you become Giufa?” always seemed to redirect me to life’s correct path. Giufà anecdotes were an equivalent curative to her minestra when renegade cold germs struck. Those tales represented welcome and soothing old friends, even elixirs.
Mom and her assortment of fables stripped thru layers of clutter, and focused on my stress, like a Sicilian style verbal yoga. Unbeknownst to me, Momma shared these tales with my children as they wove their way thru life too. Nowadays, these Giufà lessons resound in their heads and hearts too as they lecture in classrooms, or corporate boardrooms a world away from the holy card plastered, seashore picture window where they’d sat on their grandmother LoMonaco’s comforting and secure lap absorbing the wisdom of their ancestry. My children also scrambled to her side when surprise difficulties or successes splashed their lives.
They smile when they recall her velveteen, reassuring voice laced with her freshly created adaptations of Giufà stories to massage the tender heart. So many days I yearn to chat (chiacchiare) with Momma and to share a few more cameo moments to claim my birthright, accept another delivery of her wisdom, only to be reminded that she no longer lives just a few car lengths from an earthly railroad station. She is now stationed beside all those saints who once wallpapered her windows and walls.
My search over. Thanks to my brief stay in Gogarty’s home, I believe that I’m able to locate Giufà. Forced by that place, moment, and perhaps the great poet himself, I’ve rediscovered Giufà. He resides in the midst of memories of Momma. Not only do her stories survive in the handful of her grandchildren blessed with simpatico, they remain stored in the safe deposit box of my heart.
First appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Sicilia Parra.