Sonnet for Ana di Torre le Nocelle

  • Submitted on time! Jun 21, 2020
Once Upon A Time

**see feedback question before reading on**

Sonnet for Ana di Torre le Nocelle

Ana gave what she could

to her little hill in Avellino.

While all the dons who’d gone for good

hardly sent scraps for dough.

Ana gave what she had

to the women who had died in labor.

The dons would hold their daughters up and ask

who will take her?

Ana had fourteen kids

but sometimes it was up to thirty.

Serafina knew the dons,

knew that every clean press was dirty.

Tony took Rosa home,

but Serafina got him in the skull with a stone.


Here’s my retelling of Strega Nona. For those who don’t know, Strega Nona is an Italian fairytale about a grandmother who is essentially a pasta-making witch doctor (duh). She has a magical pot that produces endless pasta. Big Anthony, Strega Nona’s jealous assistant, tries to use her pot while she’s away, but he doesn’t know how to stop the pot from a-makin-tha-pasta and almost drowns the whole town (Strega Nona shows up to save the day).

Anyways, bear with me.

Was thinking about my great-grandmother, Anastasia, this morning. She was the wet nurse for her tiny village in Italy—Torre Le Nocelle, in Avellino. Ana had fourteen children of her own (the youngest of which was my grandmother) but at any given time was nursing up to another dozen kids. Was this number probably an exaggeration? Yes, probably. But the woman had fourteen kids of her own, so as far as I’m concerned, anything is possible. Point is, just as Strega Nona was a magical pasta provider, my great-grandmother was a magical milk provider. Anyways, my grandmother (Serafina) once told me a great story about how the dons (men who thought they were big-shots) in town would travel to the city for business, abandoning their families, and send back barely enough money for food. Some of these men, whose wives died in childbirth, would dump their kids with Ana. So my grandmother, who was already one of fourteen (or, more like eleven, several died in infancy), grew up thinking several of the infants my great-grandmother nursed were her brothers and sisters. One day, one of the dons showed up to collect his daughter, Rosa, because he planned to move. My grandmother had no idea who this man was and thought he was stealing one of her sisters, so as he walked away from their house, she threw a rock at his head. Got him pretty good, so the story goes.

Looking for feedback on

Before reading the lyrics, just by listening, was the narrative clear? Separately, did you enjoy the listen?


nurphgun July 5, 2020 4:50pm

Love this. It has great forward motion. Love how it stays chill the whole time – I kept kind of expecting it to get bigger but was glad it didn’t. The guitar between the verses is beautiful. I was able to follow the narrative until Serafina, Tony, and Rosa came in – we don’t know their relation to Ana, so I wasn’t quite sure what was happening at that point. It’s such a fantastic story, is there some way it can be stretched or modified in the lyrics so there are fewer named characters? Like maybe we don’t have to know Tony or Rosa’s names, they could just be a guy and his baby. On the other hand, the names are lovely, so who cares?

Ryan July 5, 2020 8:54pm

Thanks, Nora. That’s totally fair on all the character names. In retrospect, maybe my feedback question was slightly misguided. I like, thought I cared about people understanding the whole story upon only hearing it. But maybe it’s meant to be a footnote-dependent tune.

nick July 2, 2020 9:39am

that is a truly wild story. really fun to listen after reading your whole description. im grateful this assignment gave you the excuse to lay down all those italian villa riffs 👌

Ryan July 5, 2020 8:43pm

Haha. Villa Riffs—new project. Glad you enjoyed it, mate.

kurds June 22, 2020 4:53pm

Damn, what a great mix. Exceptionally clear vocals but to be honest I didn’t understand what was going on, but I’m also not familiar with this story. Wish this was longer!

Ryan June 23, 2020 11:55am

Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the mix. Still new to it. That’s fair enough—the story is really that of my great-grandmother and my grandmother, just written as a parallel to Strega Nona. So I don’t blame you for not knowing what’s going on! haha

Carseat June 21, 2020 9:29pm

Wow I absolutely love the guitar work in this. Panned so well.

“Sometimes up to thirty” : Yes.

Ryan June 23, 2020 11:57am

Thanks, Darcy! Geetar for life.