When, at age four, she described being born, her
hands indicating the push of walls against her head, and described
the haired fruit of her mother's insides, the long dark wet journey
down the canal -- then! -- the sudden burst of light, the assault
of sound and cold, her grandmother Nonna Rose and her mother Sofia
stared at her in terror.
"Morte!" they cried, crossing themselves,
and yes, thought Filomena now, being born is indeed the first step
"Ci siamo pentiti!" they added, "we
have repented!" asking forgiveness for whatever they must have
done to deserve this.
Because they knew then that Filomena could "see things," that she had "the gift." Nonna Rose's great-aunt, Zia Angeline, had had it too; would murmur incantations against malocchio, the evil eye.
Nonna Rose and Sofia made sure that Filomena was
raised Roman Catholic and Filomena knew that those nuns felt the
dark charge of her gift eel beneath their wimples. Why, Sister Lawrence
said that Filomena made the holy water boil. She said that when
the girl entered the church, the faces of the Saints opened up on
the walls and you could see demons inside with the eyes of goats
In her sixties now, Filomena does all the usual psychic business,
reading auras and so on. ("Men ask mostly about business affairs,"
she says. "Women want to know about love.") She doesn't
read crystals or tea leaves, however. Filomena divines with fresh
"What's more real," she points out, "than a fig?"
In Filomena's hands, the figs become worlds. They're
as soft and yielding as brains or hearts. She slices them, feeling
the give of the suede fruit against her palm. The insides of the
figs speak to her across oceans and time, played upon like movie
Sometimes, she'd like to shut out that sweet dark knowledge
of her visions, the moans of the dumb, the wail of stillborns, burdens
that her mother and her grandmother did not understand. Because
although the figs are her tools, the wonder fruits that provide
the pictures for her to interpret to others, their absence is no
guarantee of peace. There is still the nearly relentless parade
of human emotion uncurling inside her brain (her soul!), a loud
and garish street feast upon which she cannot shut the door. It
is why she never married. Could she really bear to know what would
become of daughters of her own? While other women her age have spent
years of afternoons simply ironing the linens or reaching for the
tea kettle or receiving Communion without giving the Saints goats'
eyes, Filomena has borne the burden of her gift.
Once, when she was just a girl, she told Nonna Rose what she
had seen inside a fig, that she had seen Nonna Rose herself, Nonna
before she was Nonna. She saw her laughing, running across a hilltop
in Calabria, warm sea-winds ribboning over the fig trees. She saw
her grandfather, Vittorio, chasing Nonna, till the two of them fell
together underneath a tree. She saw Rose's face change and heard
her breath lifting in heaves, trying to push him away. Filomena
felt her grandmother's heart become a wild quivery thing, Vittorio
moving across her like the shadow of a hawk. The divine fruit ripened
Locked in the closet after telling Nonna this,
Filomena fingered the dark fruit in her pocket; rolled it and squeezed
it, and poked her fingers into it. She felt the sticky blood of
the fig sluice over her hand, the seeds hard and tiny under her
nails. In the dark of closet, she heard the small, sharp cry of
the human heart.
Melissa Montimurro lives with her husband and four sons in rural northwestern New
Jersey, where she teaches poetry workshops for elementary school students, teens
and women. Her poems have appeared in Taproot, Maelstrom, ProCreation and on the
web at Wise Woman's Web and NJPoets. New work has appeared, or is forthcoming in
Bugle, Clay Palm Review, The Comstock Review, Snowy Egret and Iris: Journal for