Ma says the Americans came through in their tanks,
guests of honor for the big street party.
People yelling and screaming and crying,
soldiers’ tossing out chocolates and gum.
She looks through me, sips her chamomile tea,
squeezes the floating lemon with her spoon.
She says the blanket flew out of the tank –
army wool, earth green, fine weave
unfolding in midair. She leapt through a sea
of waving arms, her eyes closed to clutch the cloth
to her breast as she elbowed, rolled it in a bundle
of hysteria so the tug-of-war had to pull her with it.
She turned the blanket into a winter coat,
ruffled sleeves, double-breasted, fitted at the waist
(she laughs into her cup saying, a very thin waist),
lamb-skin buttons, just the right ankle length barely enough
to stitch a hem. She and her sister took turns wearing it
on Sunday promenades. Heads turned to get a closer look
at the woman who wore the coat, shined shoes,
berry and wax lipstick with a drop of olive oil for shiny lips.
She takes a sip trying to remember where the coat
disappeared – if only some memories would disappear –
coats you can give away to the poor. She stabs
the lemon gently to the bottom as she brings
those years out of memory’s storage. She pulls
her ear and there he is again, staring from the bottom
of her cup, the German soldier riding his motorbike
like a madman into the town square. She says
she had saved the coat from time, from dust and wear.
She pulls her ear harder to erase the clamor
that rings clear when the American plane flies low
chasing the soldier savage for his life
and the tink-tink of Ma’s spoon stops
when a line of children dressed in white have taken
their first taste of the body of Christ still stuck
to the roof of their mouths. Their prayer books
shade their eyes looking up to see the plane
with no name roaring low as they hunch lower.
The sky spits streams of speedy invisible fire
and when the noise subsides the screams arise.
Ma stirs the last bitter drops and tries to avoid
the lemon sipping up the children dressed in white
sprinkled in red unmoving in their poses together
with the one unknown soldier of unknown purpose.
She swallows hard, as if that last sip won’t go down.
She looks into her empty cup with fear and wonders aloud
where in the world her green coat has disappeared.
Lily Prigioniero holds a degree in English literature from University of Michigan, MFA from the Università di Siena, received the literary award “Premio Archè” in Rome, is a featured poet and judge for the Ekphrastic Review. Her poems appear in various literary journals. She has taught writing for NYU, Brandeis, Syracuse universities in Florence, Italy, where she lives with her family.