April 18, 2014


Mama kisses Papa on his 80th Birthday


I used to think in the photo
sometimes your eyes 
would blink, your lips
tremble slightly.
I would stare hard and long, 
Waiting for miracles,
for you to wave
your hand at me.

In dusky light, in morning sun,
I stared away,
pretending life
had never changed,
that death had failed to conquer you,
that you had found
a place to hide 
far from Death’s wrath.

I told myself to keep the faith.
You would return,
absent yourself
from the spring scene
of that photo, leave behind trees
and your sidewalk,
and suddenly
come back to who

you were to me,
father and friend,
not a snapshot anymore, not
old memories
poured into this broken heart,
not a shadow
but flesh and bone.


© 2007 Salvatore Buttaci

My father Michael at age 2 in 1907

Papa at 16

Papa at 20


Today I gave my father back his face,
Returned dark brown eyes, a voice,
Graying hair, that smile lost in time.
I lifted him from the flatness of a photo,
Brought his appearance into focus 
So that in his familiar shape and form
He would somehow come to life.
Why punish myself like that?
Why disturb him from a decade's sleep?

At Sunday mass during the consecration
I should have contemplated Christ's Passion.
Instead I resurrected my father –– not his ghost!
The flesh and blood of him! The father
I had kept at bay since death, his face
Freed from the stillness of photographs, 
I had allowed  my mind to conjure dangerously:
A likeness much too painful to recall.
But I was lonely; I missed him.
All at once, ashamed of my irreverence, 
Afraid my prayer would be answered, 
I blurred  the vision of his transformation
Except for a hand waving in misting memory,
Except for the voice of that gentle father spirit
Attempting to speak words of forgiveness
To a son tottering between wishing him and wishing
Him away. Then an old photograph circa 1952 
Flashed in my memory: on a porch a young boy and his father.
It is summertime forever. The sun is shining. They smile.


© 1997 Salvatore Buttaci

                                                           Papa and I in 1955


My father’s hands
fluttered like bird wings
when he told stories

they felt gentle around my shoulders
made me know without doubt he loved me

applauded life even in his pain
trembled in those final deathbed days

and when I look at these old photos
Papa is waving at the camera, as if death…
as if it never happened.


© 2008 Salvatore Buttaci


Despite these twenty-seven years 
empty of your laughter,
I can still see you 
smiling at the camera,
cake knife in hand,
slicing that first piece
of your birthday cake
Mama baked
(after the click and flash)
you gently let fall
into her plate.


© 2008 Salvatore Buttaci

Mama, Papa and I in 1975

Mama and Papa in 1932


My father never missed a day of work
In all his years of labor: from dishwasher
When he was a teenager new to this land
To welder at the Curtiss-Wright plant
In Woodridge where daily he inhaled
The noxious fumes that in the end proved
The cause of his sad passing.
We sons and daughters learned from his example:
Pretend we were too sick to go to school?
Why, we wouldn’t dare!  

He was a fine man of principle who refused
To follow the work antics of the sheepish crowd.
“I do what’s right,” he’d say. “To hell with
who likes, who doesn’t like! Remember this:
Give an honest day’s work for an honest 
day’s pay. Don’t look to fool the boss.
He’s a worker too. You want him to be fair?
Then you be fair with him!”

My father conducted his life strictly 
by the rules. Into his 80s, he still walked
straight as a soldier, his head lifted high.
That man was unafraid to stare life in the eye.
He taught us there’s no shame in hard honest work;
Still, he encouraged us to go to college
So we would earn more, working with our minds.

“In your success,” he’d tell us, “never look down
on those who work with their hands. We workers 
built this country!” and you could hear the emotion, 
the pride, choking in his throat.
His voice would tremble when he’d say,
“In the walls of every tunnel, 
down in the dark subways, all those miles 
across every single bridge,
you’ll find a piece of us. God bless the working class!
We made America what she is today.”


© 2004 Salvatore Buttaci

Papa posing as a farmer: 1932

Papa hunting in Pennsylvania: 1928


Dear Papa, when images of you tiptoe 
to mind and suddenly I think you standing there,
once more in flesh and bone,
my heart's desire is to embrace you
listen to your voice speak tenderly,
together spin technicolor spheres of laughter
in that quiet meeting hall of memory.
It is a temptation to which I gladly would succumb
to hear you once more say how, though gone,
you live on in sweet Paradise, but I am too strong,
too weak, unable to disown the world of breath
and stone. Instead, like a boy unsure, lost, confused,
in the gray of this joyous reunion, Papa,
I hesitate and you are lost.


© 1999 Salvatore Buttaci

Papa in 1969

Papa in 1984

Papa and Mama renew their vows 50 years later:1982


I can still hear Frankie ask, 
"Why didn't we save at least one 
of Papa's horses?" as we all
gathered together that sad old 
April Papa passed away.
Those little horses Papa sketched
in the margins of his papers,
those little horses with reins
and funny-looking cowboys 
sitting on saddles, booted feet
in stirrups, tall wide-brimmed hats
above mustached smiles ––
"They look like dogs," I told him.
"They look like horses, dummy,"
Anna said.  "Horses are bigger,"
I said. "They're dogs," Then Papa
took up his pencil again, this time
stretching the little horses' legs,
thickening them down to wide hooves,
fattening their bodies and their heads.

"The cowboys look too small now,"
I said, to which Anna shook her head
disgustedly. But Papa was patient.
He sketched some more, his hand
rounding out, elongating, shading in
the faces, extending boot size, giving
the cowboys twenty-gallon hats that
would've buried their heads had Papa
not allowed them to float in the air 
above his cowboys' eyes. Papa's horses.

We all remember them. How can it be
in all his notebooks not one single
little cowboy rides one single
little horse inside the confines 
of the paper's red margin?


© 1998 Salvatore Buttaci


I saved my father in a book,
wrote his marrow and his bones
on blue-veined lines
and delighted how he walked
through the stanzas of my poems.

I saved him in a book,
traded sorrow for sweet songs
sung in happier times
and recited all his wisdom
inside the pages of these poems.

I lured my father to this book,
enticed the fellow from his stone
with magic rhymes
inviting him to stay
in the shelter of these lines.

I saved him in a book
in the comfort of these poems
in the heartbeat of my verse
in the cadence of these words
in his dance across the pages
where he lives forever ageless
I saved Papa in this book


© 1997 Salvatore Buttaci

Michael Buttaci was born July 05, 1905, and died April 20, 1987. I was blessed to have had him for my father. He taught me the importance of being honest, honorable, and true to myself. By example he showed me how a good man loves God and family and others. 

Once when I was a teenager, my father was relating a story about his mother who had passed away in 1939. Throughout the story he held his white handkerchief, dabbing his eyes and blowing his nose, until finally I said, "Pa, Grandma's been gone for twenty years. Why are you still crying?" He looked at me, flashed one of those enigmatic smiles and replied, "If I live another two hundred years, I'll still be crying." 

Oh, Pa, in your absence, I know exactly what you meant. Time heals, but it leaves scars. And wonderful memories too.

Salvatore Buttaci writes poems, stories, articles, and blogs everyday.

His two flash fiction collections were published by All Things That Matter Press and available at Amazon.com.  

His book about Sicily and Sicilians, still selling copies after 16 years: A Family of Sicilians...

He is the author of two recent chapbooks:  
What I Learned from the Spaniard...  (Middle Island Press) 
and Boy on a Swing...  (Big Table Publishing)

A retired teacher, Buttaci lives in West Virginia with Sharon, the love of his life.