I'm continuing my stint as Medium of the Month over at the Inquisitive Eater. Here's my most recent post:
Today’s ghost poet is John Ciardi (1916-1986). In addition to being a professor and prolific poet, Ciardi produced an acclaimed translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. In three linked sonnets, Ciardi’s poem “Aunt Mary” tells the story of the death and life of a lonely woman whose love was too much for those she loved (she “loved us till we screamed . . .”). She’s the aunt who squeezed your cheeks too hard, forced you to kiss her, hugged you to her bosom (which smelled of drugstore perfume), and wanted so desperately to be loved that you turned away. Ciardi’s use of alliterative slant rhymes (peppers, pressure, scorchers) and repetition carries you along to the poem’s sad end. Stanza two conjures the messy, crowded, noisy immigrant household that Ciardi, the son of Italian immigrants, may have experienced in his own childhood. The poem begins with macabre humor but ends with the narrator’s graveside epiphany and understanding of his loss.
Aunt Mary died of eating twelve red peppers
after a hard day’s work. The doctor said
it was her high blood pressure finished her.
As if disease were anything to Aunt Mary
who had all of her habits to die of! But imagine
a last supper of twelve red peppers, twelve
of those crab-apple size dry scorchers
you buy on a string at Italian groceries,
twelve of them fried in oil and gobbled off
(Aunt Mary was a messy eater)—and then,
to feel the room go dizzy, and through your blood
the awful coming on of nothing more
than twelve red peppers you know you shouldn’t have eaten
but couldn’t help yourself, they were so good.