Castell’ Alfero, a town in northern Italy, is the ancestral home of the Avidano family. Its name means castle of iron, and it has—if not a Disneyland-type castle—a castle nonetheless, with an ancient tower above what is now the town hall. My husband has been telling me what he remembers from a long-ago visit to the place. Last month our daughter and her family, accompanied by our nephew, visited there. In the village they found a man who was able to direct them to the house where once had lived Dominic and Rosina Avidano, my husband’s grandparents.
“And if you like,” he said, “I can show you the house of Dominic’s grandfather as well.”
Although Dominic and Rosina left Castell’ Alfero for America in November of 1905, someone there still knows of them!
One of the functions of poetry—and by far not the only one—is as a keeper of stories or history or memories. “Castell’ Alfero” is the name I gave to a poem recently published. It is included in a book released in September from The Backwaters Press, called THE UNTIDY SEASON: An Anthology of Nebraska Women Poets. (Available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com)
Remember that I said poetry has many functions? Marilyn Dorf is another of the almost-ninety contributors to the book. She and I have been talking recently about imagination as another vital ingredient in poem-making—even those whose origin is something true.
When you come upon the book, look for Marilyn’s “Moon of the Buffalo Coming.”
Something true—and imagination—went into “Castell’ Alfero,” based on a story told to my mother-in-law by her mother-in-law nearly eighty years ago. The something true is the smallest hint a love story from a woman so self-effacing that none of her children knew even the day of her birthday. When finally a grandchild was born on August 12 she said, “He is born on my birthday.” Her seventieth.
Remembering a story told to my mother-in-law
by her mother-in-law
The ancestors of my children
(on their father’s father’s side)
came from a Piemontese village
named for its castle of iron.
Castell’ Alfero—I should want
to see in every light those
tile roofs at the foot of the tall
stern tower, there in Piemonte,
at the feet of snowy mountains.
Rosina, imprisoned at nineteen
in the iron castle of an arranged
marriage, must have looked out
and past the moonlit vineyards.
“She lost four babies in Italy,” it
was later said among the others,
the eight who lived. The father,
Angelo Domenico Avidano, who
was no angel, it is true, provided
for his family nonetheless. He
heard talk of better prospects,
booked their passage for America.
In November, then, of the fifth
year into the century, Rosina
looked back for a last time to
Castell’Alfero’s rooftops, and
to the babies’ graves. First in
Hell’s Kitchen, then, when they
had saved enough, in Queens,
the family scrabbled for work.
Years passed. One day, when
Rosina sat quietly mending,
with only her daughter-in-law
nearby, she said for no reason,
“There was a boy from the next
farm over. I would meet him
in the hedgerow between our
families’ vineyards.” That was
all, and never to her daughters
did she say even so much as
this: that one love in a lifetime
lets a person see in every light.