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Contemporary Italian American Writing

Six Poems by Michael Palma

Ray Charles at the Copa | The Flowers | Nothing to Get Hung About
| Roundelay | By the Old Canal | After Thoreau

Michael Palma has published two poetry chapbooks, The Egg Shape and Antibodies, and a full-length collection, A Fortune in Gold, (Gradiva Publications, P.O. Box 831, Stony Brook, NY 11790.) as well as an Internet chapbook, The Ghost of Congress Street: Selected Poems, on The New Formalist Press Web site. His eleven translations include prize-winning volumes of Guido Gozzano, Franco Buffoni, Paolo Valesio, Ljuba Merline Bortolani, Maura Del Serra (with Emanuel di Pasquale), Alfredo de Palchi (with Luigi Bonaffini), Enzo Varollo, and Diego Valeri with Princeton University Press. His fully rhymed version of Dante’ s Inferno was published by W.W. Norton in 2002, and reissued as a Norton Critical Edition in 2007. His translation of the poetry of Giovanni Raboni, for which he won the Raiziss/de Palchi Translation Fellowship, was published by Chelsea Editions. He has also published books by Sergio Corazzini, Armando Patti, Luigi Fontanella and edited New Italian Poets with Dana Gioia, as well as a volume of translations from Luciano Erba with Alfredo de Palchi. His essay “The Road to Rome, and Back Again” appeared in The Pushcart Prize XVII (2003). He is, also, the poetry editor for Italian Americana magazine. A former New Yorker, he currently resides in Vermont with his wife Victoria. The following are sample poems by Michael Palma's from his extensive works.

Ray Charles at the Copa

He stands in shadow, waiting to go on,
Alone inside his mind as mother care
Sits aching in his muscles. Spotlights flare,
The trumpets call his name, his frown is gone.


He hovers at the piano, reaches out
And like a woman it is one with him,
Rippling in his rhythms. Spotlights dim.
He hunches down into his edging shout.


He strains for every wound on every skin
Until they open out along his flesh,
Ripe and sparkling. The ripped pieces mesh
Into a mouth that sucks the darkness in.


He moans and rocks, the piano rocks and screams,
Soul flares its fingers and the body dreams.

The Flowers

Who wants to hear
All about the flowers,
All the splendid shoots,
The delicate names?
How they take no thought
For the heart's desire--
So perishable,
So lightly arrayed?


Who wants to know
How they put to shame
All our solid rubbish,
Our heavy dreams?
How they lean toward heaven
And live in air?
Who loves the flowers
Will never love me.

Nothing to Get Hung About

He was wrong, he knew it, he was the teacher, he
Had to back his shredded argument. The child,
Lost in his rightness, publicly stupid, smiled
To no one, "I don't know what's wrong with me,
I guess I just don't want to be any more."
His file said genius. He was just turned four.


"Is that what they call you?" And the doctor said
A stabbing word that children just turned five
Don't say, in books. The boy's laugh was a shout--
"I always make a mess of things!"--already
Wearing his bull's-eye. Please keep me alive,
His eyes were saying, don't let me fall out.


They kept him alive to weather, alive to night,
To what boiled up inside him, not much more.
Time went, so he went with it, just as far
As it would take him, just to see what might
Be waiting for him, trying now and then
His dances on the edge, but hanging in.

Roundelay

"Would you like to come in?" he asked,
And she looked at him as if
No woman had ever entered his house
For a decent purpose. He smiled.


"What do you think about?" she asked,
Trailing her fingers along the table,
Turning from the waist.
He stepped behind her. "Oh,


About a woman coming here,
Bringing me her personal body,
Me showing her its separate life,
Giving her toes new reasons to exist."


He sipped at her ear. "About the tawny
Nape that hides beneath her hair."
His fingers tiptoed up her ribs
To find the doorbells of desire.


"Give up your fantasy to me,
Let me make it true for you."
The bed was moving across the room,
Coming to meet them. He turned her around.


Now he was doing strong things with her
Now he was open and upon her
Rushing sliding tumbling to her
As far as his mind could take her


Now she was climbing to meet him
Their bodies moaned together
Their minds flew out the window
They came apart everywhere


Loosely fastened, brains seeping back,
They lay. Cradling him,
She wondered who he was.
"What do you think about?" he asked.

By the Old Canal

If only there were music
We could dance.


Awash in amniotic data,
Anomie and blague,
All the old words
Cascading in a mantra,
Until quietly he told her,
Ours is a perfect romance.
You are always possible,
A check I'll never cash.
Distant, unrealizable,
Yet comforting--a star.
To say more would be madness.
We must never meet again.

If only we could dance
There would be music.

After Thoreau

The mass of men lead lives
Of quiet desperation.
For every one who strives
When misery arrives,
Ten shrivel in frustration.


The blood proposes riot.
For each one pricked to try it,
Scores mutter, and let pass.
More desperately quiet
Grow the lives that men amass.


All indications show where
All pathways bring them nowhere.
Too schooled to suffer needs,
How quietly men go where
Their desperation leads.

Copyright ©2002-09 by Michael Palma. All rights reserved, including electronic. Cannot be reprinted without expressed permission of the author.

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