National Poetry Month 2022, Week Three: Millicent Borges Accardi’s “The Graphics of Home”

April 20, 2022

When Samantha and I were back in São Miguel two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to place a plaque at Emigrant Square in honor of my great-grandparents José and Anna Rodrigues Casquilho, who emigrated from the Azores in 1906. As the wind whipped up on the plaza, swirling around the large mosaic globe, and the ocean waves crashed against the rocky north shore, I had the distinct impression my bisavós were making their presence known.

The ceremony was emotional for me, especially because several members of my Azorean family attended. I delivered a speech in Portuguese—although much of it may have been lost on the wind—and placed the plaque in the square that had been reserved for it. I couldn’t help thinking of my bricklayer great-grandfather when I nestled the plaque into the fresh mortar.

(Coincidentally, outside Letras Lavadas Livraria the night before, where we were launching my books Azorean Suite and Wine-Dark Sea, stone workers were busy replacing the basalt and limestone calçadas and street paving stones right up until we started talking—another sign that my great-grandfather was present.)

This got me thinking about other emigrants from the islands and about Millicent Borges Accardi’s new book of poetry, Through a Grainy Landscape, which, as another Azorean American writer, Katherine Vaz, puts it, explores “what heritage means to those descended from immigrants long established in the place of their dreams.”

Accardi’s books include Only More So (Salmon Poetry, 2016) and she has received a Fulbright, along with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), CantoMundo, the California Arts Council, Yaddo, Fundação Luso-Americana (FLAD), and the Barbara Deming Foundation. She lives in Topanga, California, and has degrees in writing from CSULB and USC. In 2012, Accardi started the “Kale Soup for the Soul” reading series featuring Portuguese-American writers.

Here is Millicent Borges Accardi’s “The Graphics of Home”

Were broken by the Great

Depression, the textile mills,

and the golf ball factories.

We came from The Azores

and the mainland and Canada,

settling in Hawaii and New Bedford

and San Pedro, the original

Navigators. No one was documented.

Here was what I learned at home

thru the lifecycle of a shirt.

Polyester and cotton, it arrived

in the mail, from Sears,

sent as a hand-me-down

from Fall River, carefully washed

and ironed and pressed,

in a tomato box that had been

repurposed and wrapped in brown

paper and smelling of stale

cigarettes. That shirt was worn

and washed and used many times,

as if it had been new. When they

frayed, the elbows were mended

and torn pockets were reconnected

with thick carpet-makers’ thread.

When the sleeves were too worn

to restore, they were scissored

off to make short sleeves and then

the new ends were folded and hemmed

until no more and then there was the time

when the sleeves were cut off

entirely, to create a summer top

or costume for play time, sleeveless,

perhaps a vest for a pirate.

When outgrown and too worn

for even that, the placket of buttons was removed,

in one straight hard cut along the body

of the shirt front, through and through.

The buttons were pulled off by hand,

for storage in an old cookie tin,

the cloth cut into small usable pieces

for mending, for doll clothes, for

whatever was left over. The rest, torn

into jagged rags for cleaning and, if the fabric was soft,

used for Saturday’s dusting of the good furniture

in the den. Whatever was left, was sold

by the pound, wrapped and rolled into

giant cloth balls, sold to the rag man

who made his rounds in the neighborhood

all oily and urgent and smiling as if

his soul were a miracle of naturalized

birth.

From Through a Grainy Landscape by Millicent Borges Accardi, New Meridian Arts (2021)

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