of the 2003 Bordighera Poetry Prize:
Sponsored by the Sonia Raiziss-Giop Foundation
Gerry LaFemina for
The Parakeets of Brooklyn
Runner-up is Paola Corso
for Oxygen for Two
to: Awards Ceremony,
November 17, 2005
1972 | My Medusa | Coda:
The Parakeets Of Brooklyn
are happy to announce that Gerry La Femina is winner of the 2003
Bordighera Poetry Prize sponsored by the Sonia Raiziss-Giop Foundation.
LaFemina's books include Shattered Hours: Poems 1988-94 (Red Dancefloor
Press, Lancaster, CA), Graffiti Heart (winner of the 2001 Anthony
Piccione/MAMMOTH Books Poetry Prize; MAMMOTH Books, DuBois, PA),
and The Window Facing Winter (2004, New Issues Press, Kalamazoo,
MI), as well as a number of chapbooks. His poems, stories and
essays have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies
including American Poetry: The Next Generation, Sudden Stories,
and New Poems from the Third Coast. He is co-editor, with Daniel
Crocker, of Poetry 30: an anthology of poets in their thirties
(MAMMOTH Books). Born in Brooklyn and raised in three of New York's
five boroughs, he lived in Michigan for many years where he edited
the journal Controlled Burn and still directs the Controlled Burn
Seminar for Young Writers. Currently, he is a Guest Professor
of Writing at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan
and serves on the Board of Directors of the Association of Writers
and Writing Programs (AWP).
Gerry LaFemina's work, distinguished judge, Donna Masini wrote:
"What draws me to Gerry La Femina's poems is how much of
the world they contain: Brooklyn streets, racetracks, Vietnam,
a boy's imagined transgressions, family dramas. What is compelling
is the tension between the speakers' urge to understand and the
mystery that resists explanation; the partial understandings,
the misunderstandings of childhood. Read the sample poems which
follow here, "Brooklyn 1972" and "The Sound the
Body Makes," and listen to how these poems search as they
attempt to tease out meaning. Or maybe...or maybe is what I hear
pulsing under the lines. In their plain, simple diction they are
firmly grounded in the everyday. Public and private collide, intersect,
as events and images become more difficult to reconcile, to describe.
LaFeminas poems ripple with erotic desire, the budding sexuality
of young boys, the lure of the nape hidden under a woman's hair,
the interiority of the boy who'd slid into the sleeve of the dark
suit left by his father. It's a rich world, the world of The Parakeets
of Brooklyn. It's a gritty and tender gamble."
Biagini, poet of Florence, was commissioned to translate LaFeminas
winning book. The poet Gerry La Feminia and his commissioned translator
received $1,000 each, presented at an awards ceremony, reading,
and reception at Poets House at 72 Spring Street in New York City
on March 11th, 2004.
Bordighera Poetry Prize was founded by Daniela Gioseffi and
Alfredo dePalchi, a trustee of The Sonia Raiziss-Giop Foundation,
in 1997. Former winners and translators have been: Lewis Turco
for A Book of Fears, translated by Joseph Alessio; Joe
Salerno for The Tulip Tree, translated by Emanuel diPasquale;
Luisa Rossini Villani for Running Away from Russia translated
by Luigi Fontanella; Stephen Massimilla for Forty Floors from
Yesterday translated by Luigi Bonaffini; and Jane Tassi for
And Song Song Songlessness, translated by Ned Condini.
Former distinguished poet judges have been: Felix Stefanile, W.S.
Di Piero, and Dorothy Barresi. Each judge serves for a two-year
term for an honorarium of $1,000. Guidelines for entry winners'
and judges' work at: www.ItalianAmericanWriters.com/prize.html/
poems from, The Parakeets of Brooklyn by Gerry La Femina
my brother with the older kids playing stickball
while our Jewish landlords kept Sabbath downstairs.
What I don't remember could fill volumes--
that's how our minds work. Someone said,
"The world is falling apart." It was my mother;
she meant the marriage, but I misunderstood.
television news broadcast helicopters
like giant dragonflies, & trees-- wild, clown-haired palms--
on fire . . . . I didn't understand any of it:
not the names scrolling at the finish of the six oclock
not the names priests asked us to pray for
in church, not my father returning,
an argument packed somewhere in his valise,
not why he or my mother would turn the TV suddenly
to Star Trek reruns: Kirk & company battling Klingons.
I thought I was watching war movies
like the ones I reenacted with green plastic men
in the grass between East 2nd Street & the sidewalk
as my brother tried to hit a Spaldeen ball beyond two sewer caps.
At the library where I was dropped off regularly
I told the librarian someone forgot to pull the flag all the way
& I was hushed
or else I forget how she explained it, forget
if any of it was explicable.
But I remember watching the close-up of one brown girl weeping
right before my brother changed stations, remember
waking to my parents voices-- hushed & frustrated.
How panicked I was
by the headlights of passing cars that yellowed my walls
briefly, because I believed,
for that moment, the yard was burning.
the garden of my medusa, the sculptures of former lovers stand,
some cracked, fingers missing, jeweleried with fissures and chips;
others adorned with pigeon shit. The birds themselves rise when
she approaches, when anyone approaches. In the right wind,
her hair seems to have a hundred minds of its own.
So much I've risked for this, and I'm lucky for my glasses, for
how they reflect light so that I never see her straight. When
I kiss her, I look askance; when we make love with such urgency--
remember, her other suitors have all gone cold by this time--I
close my eyes; feel her hair beside my ears, the flicker of little
tongues; and focus on the rub of bodies. I have robbed this moment
from the gods, and for that I know I may be cursed.
I try to picture her domesticated--so 1960s, in a plush
robe before the mirror, brushing her locks tame.
In the morning I waken, desirous, long after dawn, alone, surrounded
by the shed skins of numerous snakes.
the Parakeets of Brooklyn
surprising really--the green & yellow of them
walking in grey snow
as in the distance, greyer pigeons coo
& rock their bodies. Like drag queens out
for a weekend
along the streets of Flatbush--these parakeets--
whole parishes of them, mimic the voices
of sparrows & starlings,
their bodies brilliant pulsings in winter light.
They push aside other birds by wire trash cans,
grasp crusts of weary bread,
then ascend to familial nests they've built like turbans
atop utility poles. Six or eight holes in each,
each for a pairing of parakeets
& the songs they sing to each other. I can't help but wonder
if any of them are descendants of the blue
birds we once kept
during that Brooklyn youth; the day they flew out
the window, leaving behind only a jot of white fluff
lying lifeless in the cage,
I imagine I cried but honestly, I can't recall.
Today, out visiting & back here for the first time
in years, it's startling
to see so many: their short bent beaks & proud bodies
streaking skyward. In an apartment window I see
a face, a small hand
pointing, trying to keep pace with first one,
then a second as they propel away from the Hassids
walking from shuls
who understand these birds are puffed up with a spark
of He-who-can't-be-named. Living fireworks,
they bellow & curse
imitating the voices of street traffic, which they've been taught
beside nearby classrooms. I couldn't help myself. I stopped there
amazed by the parakeets
of Brooklyn, their dizzying flights home
while around me, most people rushed toward their affairs:
the commerce going on
outside Indian restaurants & inside bodegas,
a congregation of cars rushing the damp streets, & a subway
rattling its tracks distantly,
as if they'd all gotten used to such flashy displays
the velocity of their celebration: those Argentinian birds
racing each other, rising
rising from the bumpers of parked cars & calling to follow.
© 2003 by Gerry LaFemina from his winning manuscript,
The Parakeets of Brooklyn, to be published by Bordighera