for Paul Mastrangelo


The boat had left
a twenty-three year old man
off the tongue of the Hudson River,
to learn English from dictionaries,
(the h was not silent).


A child of Romulus,
Mussolini lifted my father
on his shoulders,
in Piazza Venezia,
in front of unknown soldiers
and a crowd of penury. The child
pissed on his head, as the shower
bit Benito's neck, he watched
the she-wolf, on her back,
lick the bullets from her fur.


In the South,
the war was a kitchen,
smell of basil, hands in dough,
perfumed flesh in stillness.
His Aunts, his mothers,
made pasta helmets and peeled
the skin off tomatoes from their gardens
in Grevena; a shelter from bombs that broke open Rome.


Foccacia bread lingered in the rooms.
He sat on a stool with flour
silt on his eyelashes and hair;
the comfort of yeast and eggs,
his mother's scent yielding
between fingers.


He was too little to fight, too skinny.
The pipe-cleaner played soccer
and danced with his cousins;
a boy that could spear
goldfish with knitting needles
and watch his sister cry.


The chickens birthed chicks,
the rooster's head on the board
running, a blood faucet dripping
black circles in the dirt.


His grandmother turned
the bird upside down, spilled
blood from its neck
and crossed herself. My father
tossed coins from the balcony
to gypsies begging from below,
their wail of want carved on their cheeks
and breasts, swallowing lira in layered
scarves made in Napoli.
They would not leave.


His mother arrived
after, in New York, across
the street from the Bronx Zoo.
Her red lips stained his cheek
to tattoo her love,
he only smelled the scent of lions,
so she tied the suitcase
to his ankles and unwrapped
the silk scarf from around her head.