Years of Resistance


"Who stole those sacks of sugar???"
You demand, as you point your fingers
That look like the heads of tadpoles
Swollen from gout of a later life of overeating.
We shrug our shoulders not knowing.

It was like those anti-Vichy posters
Your husband, a friend of Palmiro Togliatti,
The leader of the Italian Communist Party,
Once hid beneath the oven kindling
Before the Gestapo came knocking:
Had he told you that dangerous secret,
Your anxiety would have certainly revealed
The hiding place of such protest… Verboten!
Certain Death by firing squad—without appeal.


Your husband had left this world
Of (in)humanity long before you,
But had miraculously survived
That Caporetto mountain madness
Where truly pazzo Italian commanders
Had propelled their not-so-faithful soldiers
Up mountain trails so treacherous
In the face of mounted machine guns
Under strict orders to Kill…
Even the nested Austrian soldiers
Cried out in guilt and shame and tears
To the helpless Italians conscripts—
Warning them of their coming Slaughter…


One night in the wintry slush
And freezing rains he had heard
A Voice cry out in the wilderness…
Certain that someone had called out his name,
He left his tent and looked about…

It was only in the horror of the next instant
When he heard the exploding onslaught
Of artillery shells aimed not-so-blindly
By the crack Alpine troops
Of the then unknown Lt. Rommel
That he twisted his neck back to witness
The bloody bodies of his comrades
Blown to bits in that same tent…

That ghastly instant then forced
His instant conversion
From a true believer
To an avowed Atheist
With the irreverent question:
“Why me—rather than my friends???”


Reading today’s brazen newsprint,
The global Yellow Press seems to proclaim
The same old rubbish reiterated
“Like that before the first great conflict,”
You tell us [absentmindedly] all over again.

Having survived
Those two World Wars
To end all World Wars
You merely smirk as the Soviet empire
Implodes so unexpectedly…

It is time to finish your chores
Of hiding [those giant sugar sacks]
In the corners of the wood beam ceiling
Before staring up at Monte Bianco
Whose scalp now reveals deep brown furrows,
Its thick white hair rapidly balding…

It’s a precautionary measure
For the next World War you’re just waiting.

(Val d’Aosta, August 1991)

Purple Mask

A fanfare police band marches
Through winding streets of Vernazza
Trumpets blaring… drums beating… horns tooting…

It is the Holy of Holy Saint Marguerita Day.
Tourists wriggle their butts
In bemusement of generous small town provinciality
And then race for restaurant tables
To eat sardines marinated in lemon…
To eat pizza with peppers, anchovies and garlic…
To drink the sweet wine pressed
From these very sunny hillsides…

I see you—the tiny boy in a purple mask
Who devours everything with his glowing eyes…
Yours is a mask that is not a mask
Not even a pretend Carnival mask.
As you stutter, your thick cigar mouth lip
Looks like that of an old man
Who smoked far too many stale old stogies…

I see you there in the stoop standing
Before the rowdy Fellini-like fanfare…
I see you there in the crowd as you stroll,
Your tiny hand, hand in hand,
With your mother’s hand…
You so much want to be a part
Of these fanfare festivities… marching…

I watch as your yellow eyes glow
Through your eggplant skin…
I watch as you and your family
Stare at a family of foreigners
As they stuff their guts with pizza…
With pasta with pistachio pesto…
With glass after glass of sparkling white wine…

It is more food and drink
Than you and your family could ever dream…

You hear the tourist’s voices ringing
Like cash registers in ecstatic delight:
“Bill and I never got a tax break until now…
That’s why we’re here!”

With no idea what these strangers had said,
Your tongue hisses like a gargoyle
From the rooftops at the passing menagerie
Who claim to know why they have come
To this tiny village, but who possess absolutely
No clue as to what their image
Really represents to this town’s proud people…

Nor do they have any clue as they stare
Back in horror into your deep yellow eyes
As to how much you suffer like Pirandello’s Boy
Behind your purple eggplant mask...

(Vernazza, 1999)

Globe Trotter


A red bandana tied around my skull,
I find myself robed [in Kurta pajama].
I have gold earrings flaring in my nostrils,
with street cold eyes of celery green.

I sleep on gravel outside Bucharest.
My son and daughter share
An ice cream cone with a tourist
Who sports a flowered shirt.

To make our escape, I must barter
Stolen heirlooms in blistering snows
After commuting from a house trailer
Parked in a vacant lot… to wherever…

In Turino, I stage a sit-in
With all my family’s belongings
Before the [forged] medieval
Shroud of JEE-ZUS!!!…

In seeking political asylum,
I type [letters of protest]
On a portable typewriter
Against our persecution…


Like serpents we weave through the marsh
In the search for stray rats
And scramble through underground passages
Before the Russian White House…

Or upon the Champs Elysées …
Or las Ramblas of Barcelona…
Or the Mole Antonelliana...
Or the pavements of Broadway...

It is always is the same route…
The same paths already travelled by…
Almost always receiving pittance
From almost the same empty pockets…

Those are the routes of the Planet’s refugees...
Those who sail upon Rafts of the Medusa
From the shores of Sfax and Tripoli
To the isle of Lampedusa.


Porting two small children
Upon my outstretched arms,
The Maitre d’Hotel
Still dazed by El Duce’s grandeur
Rushes out of the revolving doors
To prevent me from entering
Caffè Corino from the blizzard
Upon the Piazza San Carlo.

In his hallucinations
He sees me as a wandering tramp
Or else a snowman with a mugger cap
Who must be escaping
Some distant troubled land…

Yet once sheltered inside from sleet and hail,
And beneath crystal chandeliers,
A bird of paradise suddenly greets me
With phony apologies for unintentionally
Mistaking my identity.

I see myself re-transmogrified
[in the gold-plated mirror]
Dressed in tourist greenbacks.

I tell no fortunes [not even my own].

(Torino, 1999)