Procrastination can sometimes pay off. I had on my list of things to do, to read the book of poetry “Apprenticed to the Night” by LindaAnn LoSchiavo for months. Due to life events that brought me to my knees, I was unable to sit down to fully devote my attention to it, until after my grandmother Maria Alessandra’s funeral. Much to my surprise, what awaited me was poetry with a vulnerable look at grief, trauma, and connection to Italian roots, in a way that walked me through my very similar life experience. Crossing continents and years, the reader is left searching their memories after each piece. As we try to find the significance of life, through our own understanding, through our past and those who came before, LoSchiavo is guiding us to the essence of meaning through her words in this collection.
“Cassandra’s Curse” reads like a fable brought to you through the lens of a life lived. So universal, so common you can reach back and add to the poem with your own stories of being discounted or silenced in the face of real terror and the feeling of being unable to let go of the feeling of culpability. The sentiment of accepted reality vs. doom, about the message vs. the messenger fuels something in the experience of the poem. Or maybe I just love a poem with an air of inevitability.
“Grampa Umberto’s Fig Trees” is another that connected with me on a personal level. My grandfather, Guiseppi Turchetti came over to the U.S. from Naples in 1924. He moved to an overpopulated city neighborhood in Western New York, yet he grew fig trees in his yard. The description of the attachment and pride, the care and the utter worship of these mythological trees that harken back to the homeland was exactly my experience watching my grandfather try to conquer nature. Umberto’s acknowledgment that despite all of this, it is eventually out of his control was profound for me. Similarly, my grandfather’s response to any setback in his life was “Eh, what are ya gonna do?” So real, so exquisitely accurate was LoShiavos’ language, that I found myself reading it aloud to anyone in my family who would listen. All of which said the same thing. “This is someone who knows.”
Later in the collection, the theme continues, with sensuous “Sticky Figs”. This poem reads like the first taste of something seductive. Food and sex being cousins in the pleasure principle, LoSchiavo teases out the words, coercing recollection of your budding desire. The appetite, craving, ripeness, and fascination as we come into our bodies and beings exist throughout this piece. I felt it connected in very few words with my memory of coming to physical maturity earlier than my brain and emotions were ready.
As a child reared in a Roman Catholic extended family, “Stained Lass” was one that made me think of all my years being raised by atheists in the traditions of my ancestors. All of the questions I had regarding dogma and patriarchy further alienated me from my roots. Especially the lack of control over one's autonomy given one must submit to power unseen and masculine. LoSchiavo’s line “Swore death would be “the best day” of your life sums up the disconnection with reality and with the now that, so elusive, escapes us all. This poem illuminates the tragedy of unchecked dogma and its effect on how we view ourselves from the wreckage.
It is often said that life is a dance, but death? “My Mother’s Ghost Dancing” was published by The Roi Faineant Press, originally. I chose this poem as it felt so personal, as my grandmother was reaching the end of life, and my mother began her journey with careful navigation to reconcile who her mother once was, and who lay in the bed in hospice. The release of the shackles of the body that decays, and frankly, lets us down, to the free and floating spirit that is the very essence of who we are is a celebration in this piece. LoShiavo ‘waltzes’ right into the hard stuff, with that silver lining that there is freedom in death, and there is life after it.
“Apprenticed to the Night” is a collection that holds no borders sacred. It flows gracefully and explores key and universal life experiences. As we all take our paths through loss and reflect on those who have shaped us, we can sometimes encounter feelings of disembodied grief. This collection brings you closer to the fire of what you know to be true, but that we sometimes must push out of our minds to survive; it is inevitable and out of our control that we all come from somewhere and we all leave for something else, but what happens in between is where we find the significance. The timing of this exploration and celebration of life, death, and everything in between is uncanny, and I am sure, LindaAnn LoSchiavo’s collection will be one that came in the nick of time for you as well.