Peter D'Epiro

Peter D’Epiro was born in the South Bronx to parents from southern Lazio. He received a PhD in English from Yale University and has taught at the secondary and college levels. His poems and verse translations from Italian, Latin and French have appeared in his five books and in various journals. He has also completed a verse translation of Dante’s “Inferno” and a memoir of his Italian American childhood. His full-length book of essays, “Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World,” is available on Amazon.

Weekday doubleheader

The Irish Dominican nuns at St. Rita’s in the South Bronx were tough, even the pretty ones. After Sr. Catherine Michael would finish speaking with a parent at our first-grade classroom door, her broad lovely smile darkened into a scowl as she turned to face us. We had inevitably been chattering behind her back, and she immediately rearmed herself with the pointer or yardstick she had left on her desk. Richie, my first friend in school, had a markedly oblong head and would tremble with excitement in anticipation of fun, such as when we played Americans against Germans in the …

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First day of school

In her own unobtrusive way, Mom had long been preparing me for school. In a letter my grandfather wrote her from Italy when I was four and a half, he was glad to hear I spent entire days “writing.” He was referring to my filling a sheet of paper with rows of little vertical lines in imitation of the lines my mother had made on the page. Now, a year and a half later, while she was reading her weekly letter from her father, I asked her whether it was hard to learn how to read. “No, it’s not hard, …

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Early discipline

I was a reasonably docile child who misbehaved only occasionally, though among the first things I did when I could grasp a pencil was to use it to punch holes in the faces of all the photos in our family album — one in the mouth and one in the eyes. I also acquired the habit of sticking my tongue out, and my father once love-tapped me on the lips to discourage it. After that, I still did it, but only while cupping my hand over my mouth and crouching on the far side of the washing machine from my …

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My first English teacher

My aunt Margaret had blue eyes, a blue dress and a pair of hairbrushes backed with blue velvet, all of which made sense because her birthstone was the sapphire for September. She lived with us in our Bronx apartment, but when she was in her early 20s in June 1953, she decided to revisit her native Italy. My aunt’s departure from a Hudson River pier is my earliest memory, occurring well before my third birthday. I remember my father cradling me in one arm and telling me to wave goodbye to his youngest sister. All I could see high up …

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Our homey top floor

Imagine you just finished huffing your way up to our floor, the sixth and topmost of our South Bronx tenement, 95 steps above the torrid sidewalk of East 148 Street, late on a summer afternoon of 1958. In the first apartment on the landing, jolly old Maria Torlona the Egg Lady, whose door is open, might well try to sell you a carton of her wares — or even a case — fairly cheap. Next door to Maria and her cache of “farm-fresh” eggs is the residence of blue-haired Mrs. Pugliese and her tall feisty brunette daughter, Gloria. That young …

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