You may wonder how I came to write this book. And because there is no single source, I give you the truest answers I can.
It began in La Mesa, California, where as a young child I pored over the dark Gustave Doré engravings of Inferno from my Italian mother’s hefty volume of La Divina Commedia by Dante, in her studio pungent with turpentine and oils.
It began with a series of prose poems I wrote about actual and invented maladies.
It began with a question, who wrote the poems? For the voice was redolent of old European libraries and rustled with damask.
It began with my father’s disappearance.
It began with a box of antique keys in the antiquarian market of Campo San Maurizio on a December day in Venezia.
It began with my sweet and pungent herb garden.
It began when I came home from elementary school one afternoon to find my mother curled in a ball in the corner of her blue bedroom, terrified of the waves (invisible to me) that were crashing over her.
It began with a small cloth journal decorated with volutes of red roses, sent to me when I was ten by my Italian grandmother, whom I’d never met. It had a lock.
It began with a painting by Vittore Carpaccio, Hunting on the Lagoon and another by Albrecht Dürer, Portrait of a Young Venetian Woman.
It began during one August on a Greek island when I read the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and heard the otherworldly bells of sheep returning home at nightfall as I looked toward Pergamum.
It began when I remembered my father.
It began in the eyes of my daughter, in the sheen of her supple red hair.
And it begins again in your hands, gentle reader. May you be heartened by the journey.