Presentarle . . . Adriana Gandolfi

My sweet “little” cousin — she was six years my junior — has been gone for a year and a week, and she’s been on my mind.

Adriana, 1976

I always thought of her as the tag-along kid, a gentle, exuberant spirit with a huge laugh who glided behind or beside us on gossamer slippers, drinking us in, imbibing our heartbeats but never seeking to judge, only to know our rhythms in order to synchronize hers. . . .

At Devil’s Elbow, Portland, OR, 1977.

She wrote poetry, sometimes in English, sometimes in Italian . . . .

What the eyes take in
The heart cannot contain
In contemplation and wonder,
The landscape unfolds
Changes breathes lives
Choruses of wind and sun
clouds and birds
Welcome bless and dance

Colore vibrante sonoro d’autonno
Il Ginkgo

Vive l’intensità del suo essere
Una manifestazione delle potenzialità innate
Un seme che porta l’energia dell’espressione
Color parlante entenso
Improvviso concerto d’autunno.

Adriana(far right) with my mother Charlotte (center/pink pants) and her mother Ruth(far left, blue dress) and their cousins Kurt (next to Adriana) and Gjenik (next to Ruth) and their daughters Christina and Christa in Vienna. Only Christine and Christa (left of my mother) are still alive.

We miss her.  She lived in Italy in her last years, and I didn’t see her often enough, and when I did see her, she was in the bosom of a family hungry for her presence, so there was never enough time to just be.  And yet she is all around me. . . .

I wrote this the day after she died, and I am placing it here as my tribute to her dynamic anima, to her abiding love, to her immortality.

To Adriana

The email said you’d gone,

But I know better.

You’re still here.  I know you are.

I sense your presence even in this city,

My city, whose weight you long since left behind.

I feel you in the cooler breezes blowing in off the North Atlantic

Tickling my nose, making me sneeze,

Delighting me with reassurance

This awful summer’s nearly done, and

Joy of autumn color’s  close at hand.

I smell your perfumes in the fragrant salt sea air

That drifts through my window when the city rests,

When the churning gases of industry belch a little less,

And the noxious poverty covers itself with the darkness

That spreads like healing balm around us.

And also in the vanilla-honeyed sweetness of roasting peanuts

At curbside pretzel stands.

I hear your laughter among the children playing hopscotch

Riding scooters past my café table

Where I’ve come to write a remembrance of you.

And there you are singing – Puccini, then Verdi and Bizet—in my IPOD buds.

Now I hear you once again in the murmur

Of voices from beyond.  A murmur I only occasionally notice

But one you heard, distinctly, long before any of us

Knew they were there.

I taste the memory of you, of the meals we cooked in Eugene on

That saffron soft sweet savory day we escaped another summer’s brutal heat

And cavorted on the beach

Knowing even then how fleetingly we flew.

Tears of adolescence long since dried,

We reveled in our abundance of joy.

See what I mean?

The email said you’d gone, but you are everywhere around me.

Vibrant in color, light and sound,

As you were but different, freer,

Moving nimbly, lightly past the pleasure and the pain.

You always seemed as light as air to me,

Moving with the grace of one propelled by spirits

And by a joy from somewhere else.

I see you dancing, always dancing

In the sparkling , gentle brownness of my Abigail’s eyes.

You dance divinely, I tell you, and you smile

So patiently at my pedestrian observation.

You smile on, knowing what we all know . . .

Or will . . . soon enough.

Fort Tryone Park

On a perfect presummer morning,
in crystalline air washed clean by last night’s rain,
I walk these ancient sacred hills of glacial granite grandeur,
survivors of a time primeval, long before The Flood.

I feel released as
the spring sprung lock
around my heart
throws open my soul to a flood of windsong joy.

Then, in the non-melodic jabbering,
the rustling bustling wingwhoosh of
soaring swallows
cavorting cardinals,
predatory peregrines,
I feel you near me.

Unlike you,
I never liked birds.
Their unpredicted flight,
their cacophonous calls,
their dripping bowels
terrified me, gave me nightmares.
Their behemoth shadows diminished me.

You found the creatures calming, soothing
Your accustomed darkness turned to blinding glee in their presence.
You laughed at my dread,

                                                                                                                              And I loved you anyway.

Aging Fantasy

You are a cooling comfort

Flickering gently in the pink-golden light

That tiptoes through the half-open window

Thinking to surprise us with the newborn day.

The city blares a welcome home,

The tree-lined sidewalk already teeming – still teeming –

With the blood-forced pulse that has

Compelled us to come back to where we began –

To the city insanity that revives the

Very marrow of our souls.

We’ve just returned from ruddy respite

In the Tuscan Hills.  Our garden has been tended,

And the villa walls are fortified for the season,

The hills around it are secure.

No winter rains, no summer dust will drive

The ancient heart from our retreat

We can always go back, and we shall.

But for now, we sit in silence

Regenerated by the thrumming rhythmic riffs

Repeated refrains humming in the retreating shadows

At the corners of our sight.

In a little while we’ll dash into the subway to

Chase down a film at the Forum or maybe at MOMA.

Or perhaps tonight you’ll have your own plans

As I’ll have mine . . . whatever they may be.

But for now there is only this scintillating

Silence of our intimate sharing.

Each of us immersed in a separate world of words

I at my computer, coffee mug for strength

You on the couch, Espresso tasse for taste.

You clear your throat, and I no longer cover my ears

Your distraction no longer threatens to obscure the words

At the core of my self.


I no longer simply see you, no longer simply read you

I feel you all around me, in the wash of my emotion,

In the cooling crepuscule of pink-golden light

Tiptoeing gently thru a now-open window and

Tinkling with the laughter of

Taunting, playful, tantalizing dawn.

Sister Artist

Adriana and her brothers Rene (left) and John in 2012

Adriana Gandolfi, my sweet younger cousin, never made it to old age.  She died last July, leaving behind a gap in the universe, where her great heart dwelled, and a book of her poetry Canti del anima.  She wrote in Italian and in English, and her poems, like her life, were all about giving herself to love. . . love of family, love of self, love of the universe, love of life.  We all miss her.  Every day.

I never thought I’d ever feel
the great fragility
of crystal glass and autumn leaves
all dried and filigreed
The color is transparent rust
The smell a little musty
It tastes like wine too old to drink
and sounds quietly shrill

The strength imbuing all with life
Ebbs and flows – stops and goes
Begins to fade, then disappears
We hang still by a thread.

So of all this mortal matter
where is the part that lasts?
May it be within the space
that we cannot see
where the very substance lies
that gives us all our breath?

Oh, fragile mind and fragile will
Abandon all you have
and give yourself up to the space
that lives forever now.

                                  Adriana Gandolfi

Mt. Baker

My life began here, well there,

on that sylvan floor below where my youth stretched out

in infinite languor, bathed in lingering half-light . . .
I stood here for the first time fifty years ago

and gazed downward, outward to the

layered folds of that Adirondack autumn,

anxiously hearing dreams call out from the peaks and the lakes and the rivers,

watching them open their arms to me, a  transplanted Massachusetts girl,

perched on a rockface fortress steep and mighty.
I see that waning October day so clearly, a day like today,

shimmering in the amber angles of a soon sinking sun.

I hear my uncle’s voice echo from a distant past, “Walk quickly, children.

“The sun’ll be gone soon.  We could be lost.”

He was, after all, from New York City and a bit melodramatic about the woods.

There was plenty light left for us to find our way.
The New Year and my 10th birthday

had slipped together into the widening autumn darkness.

I was poised for womanhood, the new new year’s new fruit,

a wonder, I, and wondrous. thankful that the leaves rotting beneath my feet

were dry, and  that my birthday sneakers were unsmudged.

I felt them yearn with me to move on,

to descend the slopes into the future  that beckoned in glistening

splendor, suspended in the clean crisp air.

Instead, I thrust my head toward the clouds and shouted

“I’m here, world.  Look at me.  I made it to the top.”
Well, I’m back again, and there it is,

The same sparkling valley,

Where dreams still breathe in the anxious

afternoon of yet another Adirondack Autumn.

I leap downward, into the woods; no need now to stop and crow.

I descend willingly.

I’ve only minutes left,

But in a minute there’s still time

And plenty of light.