Dennis Ferrara: Poetry: Sept 2021

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I live in Virginia, have lived here for 35 years. I know it’s in the South, but I didn’t recognize that at first. I thought the South was where I grew up—in New Orleans, in Louisiana, in an Italian family with a corner store. I trace back to Sicilian great-grandfathers who cut sugar cane for a footing in l’America and an Irish great-father who fought in the Civil War.

La Zuccherata

The war is done.
The land is ravished.
Slaves have run.
Scalawags and Carpetbaggers are now established.

Siciliani come to fill slavery’s void.
Sailing from Palermo, family in tow,
Across an ocean simply to be employed,
They gamble themselves on tomorrow.

In the fields wearing garb quite odd,
They pull seed cane from the ground
With an iron hook at the end of a rod,
Throwing each piece onto a mound.

When the morrow’s dawn lights the sky
Sicilian women, small and brown as sparrows,
Place cuts of cane with sprouting eye
At intervals in newly plowed furrows.

A black man with a mechanical hoe
And paesani with a swing and a clout
Press dark dirt to the seed cane in the row
From which plant cane will sprout.

The Sicilian gang cuts it to stubble.
In another year appear the first offshoots.
Hoe hands uncover them to continue the cycle
Before plowmen re-cover the roots.

In spring and all through the summer
Siciliani hoe and tend the growing cane,
Preparing it for la zuccherata.
“Laid by” in July, only a few months remain.

Before winter’s cold gains traction,
Each determined man, swinging his machete,
Harvests enough cane to fill a tall wagon
Bound for the sugar house in a great hurry.

More men unload it in great heaps,
Wash, cut and ready it for the boiler fires
Trice it is ground, and the sap seeps
By the pound, boiled and poured into clarifiers.

Mud separates from syrup
And the centrifuge separates it further.
La zuccherata finishes up
When the granulator turns out refined sugar.

More siciliani compaesani arrive,
Recruited in platoons.
In their quest to survive,
They harvest another year’s ratoons.

With each cycle’s replication,
La zuccherata delivers ever more Sicilians
From poverty and deprivation
To sweet lives of unimagined dimensions.