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Contemporary Italian American Writing

4 Poems by Gil Fagiani

Memories Of Migdalia | American Now
| Sacred Sod | Grandpa's Wine

Gil Fagiani A poet, translator, and short story writer, Gil is the author of over a dozen essays published in Voices in Italian Americana, Differentia, and The Italian American Review, among others, as well as in Bronx Accent, A Literary and Pictoral History of the Bronx, (Rutgers University Press, 2000). His essay, "Mario Savio (1942-1996), Resurrecting a Modern Radical" was published in The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism by editors Phil Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer. Gil's poems have received ongoing recognition: his poem, "Butterfly Bush," won honorable mention in Wind Magazine's 2002 Joy Bale Boone Poetry Award. Among his 6 chapbooks, Dopefiendery was a finalist in The Ledge 2001 Annual Poetry Chapbook Contest, while Scarfing made the finalist round in the Dead Metaphor Press 2001 Chapbook Competition. "Grandpa's Wine" was a finalist in the 2001 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, published in the Paterson Review. Gil's poetry and fiction has also been featured in Skidrow Penthouse (Skidrow Penthouse Press, 1999-2002), and several poems were recently selected for Off the Cuff, edited by Jackie Skeeter, the forthcoming anthology of North American writers on Sicily. Wired Hearts also selected several of Gil's poems for their April 2003 online issue. After the discovery of three family poets in Abruzzo in 1993, Gil has been studying with Professor Luigi Bonaffini, a leading expert on Southern Italian dialects. A social worker by profession, Mr. Fagiani is the director of Renewal House, a residential treatment program for recovering addicts in Brooklyn.

Memories Of Migdalia

She threw herself
in front of the subway
on Mother's Day
her mangled Medicaid card
read: Migdalia Cruz
born in Cayey,
Puerto Rico
a town known for its
flowers
and tranquilidad

At fifteen
she moved with her mother
to an apartment hovel
in East Harlem
after her rum dumb
stepfather
almost drowned
her in the bathtub

The subway el
blocked the summer sun
from entering
the tiny room
where Migdalia's mother
locked her up
to keep her away
from the tecatos
that pounded
on their apartment door
day and night
demanding water and matches
to cook their magic blend

When the snow fell
and the heat failed
Migdalia had an ataque
that lasted fourteen years
in an asylum
in upstate New York

A month earlier
the shrinks pronounced her
almost cured
and transferred her
to Bronx State Hospital
to be closer to her mother

In art therapy
Migdalia loved to paint
trees without leaves
houses without windows
in her hair she always
wore a dandelion
picked fresh
from the hospital grounds
by a security guard
who put his hand
up her dress
when the nurse
wasn't looking

He was one of the three
who went to the funeral
where the tipsy priest
with the greasy collar
held her mother's hand
and forgave her fallen angel
for the sin of suicide

American Now

Looking down
from the elevated line
of the Sixth Avenue subway
Tiny Tina watches the dark streets
of Greenwich Village fade away
into Old World memories.

She is happy to go
happy to speed away
from mamma's
nervous eyes
and Sicilian war cries
away from alleyways
smelling
of fruit and fish
and guinea stinker cigars
away from pinching cousins
bristly mustaches
and barber shops
buzzing
with the babel
of a dozen dago dialects.

Tina speaks American now
smells American now
looks American now.

The sole sign
of her immigrant home:
the pierced
gold heart earrings
her grandmother
sent her from Messina
she sends flying
out the subway window.

Sacred Sod

Blowing a fly
from his olive-stained thumb
five foot two Tito
rises from the table
as his daughter Ceti
feeds her uneaten dinner
to the cats flocking
in front of the doorway

He slips past the purple
pop bead curtain
that leads to his bedroom
fumbles for his keys
among the framed photos
of il Duce
and glancing
at Ceti's tear-streaked face
walks to the hilltop cemetery
where his ancestors are buried

It's his third visit of the day

Beyond the rusty gate
the air is heavy with basil
rosemary and the ear-drilling
drone of cicadas

White Calabrian sunlight
coats branches sagging with
nugget sacks of figs and pears
and tomatoes burst
like bloody wounds

Squeezed for space
Tito trips over a zucchini
big as a boa constrictor
and remembers his vow
to bring to court
the five paesani who
share his cemetery garden
for encroaching
on his family's sacred sod

At the tombstones
of his mother and father
he stops to whisper that
his other daughters
have said that Ceti is pazza
feeding her cats that multiply
with every passing day
never leaving the house
her skin like scamorza
that no man would want to touch
she needs to see
a head doctor they tell him

Tito watches a rabbit nibble
at a fallen bean stalk
and ruminates about his
wayward daughters
who have abandoned
the family hearth
for sangue strano
simpy husbands
who buy them fancy dresses
for fancy jobs
who plead instead of lead

He is right
the underground voices
reassure him
Ceti is safe at home
safe and rooted

Grandpa's Wine

Grandpa liked the sun
and sat in our backyard
in an aluminum beach chair
smoking cigars
with his name on the wrapper
reading Il Progresso italoamericano
and drinking his wine.

He drank his wine
in fancy glasses
punch glasses
empty peanut butter jars
fruit jam jars
poured it
ruby-red
over berries
peach slices
crumbled cookies
tapioca pudding.
My friend Freddy Mueller
commented
how strong the smell
of wine was
swearing he could smell it
three blocks away.

It was Freddy who told me
that Italians only built brick houses
blew their nose through their fingers
and had fiery tempers.
He said he once saw an Italian laborer
-- part of a work gang
laying water mains on Hope Street --
defecate in an open ditch
in front of oncoming traffic.

My grandfather
was once a big man
in the Italian community
designing fur coats for models
and Hollywood stars
his banquets attended by prominenti
covered in all
the Italian newspapers.

Sometimes I would look at him
sitting for hours in a beach chair
barely tolerated by his daughter-in-law
polluting the lovely Connecticut
countryside
with his smelly wine
and cigars.

Copyright © by Gil Fagiani. All rights reserved.

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