Stefanile: sample poems from
THE COUNTRY OF ABSENCE
SIDES WITH JOHN CIARDI
DANCE AT ST. GABRIEL'S | CARMEN
I CHANGED MY NAME, FELICE | THE
AMERICANIZATION OF THE IMMIGRANT
Felix Stefanile was
bom in 1920 in Long Island City, New York. He was educated in
the public schools and at CCNY. A World War 11 veteran, he found
employment after the war in a series of clerical jobs until 1950,
when he began his eleven-year stint in the New York State Department
of Labor. There he eventually became a middle functionary in worker's
claims and entitlements. In 1954 he and his wife Selma started
the poetry magazine Sparrow, which is now
one of the oldest poetry journals in the United States. His essay,
"The Imagination of the Amateur," which expresses
his ideas on independent literary publishing in American history
was published in 1966. The essay gained him a National Endowment
for the Arts Prize in 1967, and has been anthologized. In
1961, Felix Stefanile was invited by Purdue University to serve
as Visiting Poet and Lecturer for one year. At the end of his
tenure, the university asked him to stay on as a member of the
English faculty. He taught freshman composition, survey courses,
and a Poetry Writing class that drew campus-wide attention. In
1969 he was appointed to a Full Professorship, and in 1973 was
awarded the Standard OH of Indiana Prize for Best Teacher. His
poetry awards include the Emily Clark Balch Prize of theVirginia
Quarterly Review , 1972. In 1997 he was the first recipient
of the recently established John Ciardi Award for life-long
achievement in Italian American poetry.Books by Stefanile include:
Poetry: The Dance at St. Gabriel's; In That Far Country;
East River Nocturne; A Fig Tree in America; T'he Patience that
Befell; River Full of Craft. Translations:I Were Fire: 34 Sonnets
of Cecco Angiolieri; The Blue Moustache: Some Italian Futurist
Poets; Umberta Saba: 31 Poems.
SIDES WITH JOHN CIARDI
words on minus-American poetry
Robert Lowell hyphenated you--
hyphen sign, American--
praise your poetry, your answer ran
rough-house expletives. Your passion flew,
subsequently in an interview
squelched his harmless seeming little hyphen
not the way to write out citizen.
culture-vultures smiled at the to-do.
this is poetry, as may be true,
also punctuation, not too thin
point or line for morals that you drew.
all know grammar can stick like a pin,
those who think my point is overdrawn,
are no friends of yours, nor of mine, John.
DANCE AT ST. GABRIEL'S
were the smart kids of the neighborhood
after high school, no one went to school,
NYU and I CCNY.
eyed each other at St. Gabriel's
Friday nights, and eyed each other's girls.
were the cute, proverbial good catch
just think of it, nineteen -- and so was I,
all we had was moonlight on our minds.
made us cagey; we would meet outside
figure how to dump our dates, go cruising.
those hag-ridden and race-conscious times
wanted to be known as anti-fascists,
thus get over our Italian names.
the war came, you volunteered, while I
in by not applying for deferment,
which my loving family named me Fool.
furloughs overlapping, we met up,
Flight Lieutenant and the PFC;
joked about the pair we made, and sauntered.
Father Murray took one look at us,
said our Air Force wings were the only wings
ever earn. We lofted up our beers.
Louis, what good times we two have missed.
first time up and out the Germans had you,
for your golden wings they blew you down.
you were seven. You sought me after school,
came alongside as I marched away,
fcll in stride. I caught your side-long glances.
your bangs and spit-curls you were pale,
dark eyes shimmered, you were all eyes.
talked a blue streak for a stranger,
I hardly answered. I was shy of words.
said you were afraid of our old streets,
shouting at trucks backing in and out
those huge factory gates, the eerie ring
cobblestones, as in a spooky movie.
after day we walked each other home
that last corner, where you turned away.
said you'd cross the street, but I must watch.
never looked for you except the day
didn't show up, and I walked home alone.
wondered if you'd found another friend.
later then I heard, while in a store,
the bread for mother, you were dead.
were those women at the spice-laden counter,
your name in passing, as at an altar.
listened in a daze, and looked for mother.
said that we would stop to light a candle
the way home at St. Mary-of-the sea.
at the railing I picked out my candle,
we said the ten Hail Marys, the Glory Be.
we walked home my heart raced far ahead,
ahead, I know, to this bright moment,
now like a godess, stronger than Diptheria,
godess of dead children, Carmen, you light my mind.
I CHANGED MY NAME, FELICE
Italy a man's name, here a woman's,
so I went to school
seven years, and no one told me different.
teachers hardly cared, and in the class
boys who knew me said Felice,
outside they called me feh-LEE-tchay.
might have lived, my noun so neutralized,
seven years, except one day
broke a window like nobody's girl,
the old lady called a cop, whose sass
wonderfiil when all the neighbors smiled
said that there was no boy named Felice.
then it was it came on me, my shame,
I stepped up, and told him, and he grinned.
father paid a quarter for my sin,
me inside to look up in a book
Felix was American for me.
Roman name, I read. And what he said
that no Roman broke a widow's glass,
fanned my little neapolitan ass.
AMERICANIZATION OF THE IMMIGRANT
the open window,
me once again what to buy at the store--
forget, don't forget--
of fresh bread almost a halo.
was a long time ago.
have pondered and pondered
speech I was born to,
now, mother gone,
whole neighborhood bull-dozed,
no one to say it on the TV,
words are dreams.
These poems Copyright © 2000 by Felix Stefanile, from his
books, THE CROSSING OF ABSENCE, and THE DANCE AT ST.
GABRIEL'S. All rights reserved.