Daniela Gioseffi is an American Book Award-winning author of seventeen books of poetry & prose. Her latest books are: Waging Beauty: Poems, 2017; Wild Nights, Wild Nights: The Story of Emily Dickinson’s Master, 2013, and Blood Autumn: New & Selected Poems, 2007. Also: Women On War: International Writings (Simon & Schuster, 1988, & The Feminist Press: NY, 2003), and On Prejudice: A Global Perspective (Anchor/ Doubleday, 1993). She’s won two grant awards in poetry from NY State Council for the Arts; a NY State OSIA Literary Award, 2008; & The John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry, 2007. She’s presented her work on NPR, & BBC radio as well as on innumerable campuses. Her verse was etched in marble on a wall of PENN Station, NY City. Her work appeared in The Paris Review, VIA, The Nation, Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, Chelsea Literary Review, Persimmon Tree, in many major press anthologies such as Kaleidoscope: Stories of the American Experience (Oxford U. Press, 1993.) She won a PEN Short Fiction Award in for her story, “Daffodil Dollars” which appeared on N.P.R. Radio’s The Sound of Words, hosted by Alan Cheuse. She’s taught literature and creative writing at Brooklyn College, CUNY, Pace U.; The School of Visual Arts; for Poets-in-the-Schools, Inc. for over thirty-five years. A documentary, Author and Activist www.AuthorandActivist.com. about her work in Civil Rights, Women’s Rights and Climate Justice premiered in 2016. Currently she edits www.Eco-Poetry.org which receives over five thousand international visitors monthly.
“Land of bright sun and colors,”
you’re called in Italia.
Near Bari and Brindisi where the ferry
has travelled the Adriatico,
to and from Greece for centuries.
Orta Nova, city of my dead father’s birth.
How strange to view you, piccolo villaggio,
with ladybugs, my talisman, landed on my shirt.
They show me your birth
certificate–“Donato Gioseffi, born 1905,”
scrawled in ink, on browning paper.
When I tell them I’m an author, first of my American family
to return to my father’s home, I’m suddenly “royalty!”
They close the Municipio to take me in their best town car
to an archeological dig near the edge of the city.
There, the Kingdom of Herdonia, unearthed with its brick road
leading to Rome, as all roads did and still do,
back to antiquity’s glory! Ladybugs rest on me at the dig
of stone sculptures the Belgian professor shows me. I buy his book,
“The Kingdom of Herdonia: Older Than Thebes.”
Ah, padre mio, the taunts you took as a thin,
diminutive, “guinea” who spoke no English
in his fifth-grade class
from brash Americans of an infant country!
You never returned to your ancient land where now the natives,
simpatici pisani, wine and dine me in their best
ristorante. I insist on paying the bill. They give me jars
of funghi and pimento preserved in olive oil–their prize
produce to take back home with me. They nod knowingly,
when in talking of you, I must leave the table to weep–
alone in the restroom, looking into the mirror
at the eyes you gave me, the hands so like yours
that turn the brass faucet
and splash cold water over my face.
For an instant, in this foreign place, I have met you again,
Father, and have understood better, your labors,
your struggle, your pride, your humility,
the peasantry from which you came to cross the wide
sea, to make me a poet of New York City.
Which is truly my home?
This piccolo villaggio near Bari, with its old university,
the province where Saint Nicholas’s Turkish bones are buried,
in hammered-gold and enameled reliquary,
the province of limestone caves full of paintings older than those of Lescaux,
this white town of the Gargano, unspoiled by turisti, this land of color
sunlight and beauty. This home where you would have been happier
and better understood than in torturous Newark tenements of your youth.
This land of sunlight, blue sky, pink and white flowers, white stucco houses,
and poverty, mezzogiorno, this warmth you left to make me
a poet from New York City, indifferent place,
mixed of every race, so that I
am more cosmopolitan
than these, your villagers, or you
could ever dream of being.
This paradoxical journey
back to a lost generation
gone forever paving the way
into a New World
from the Old.
First appeared in Blood Autumn Autunno di sangue VIA Folios/ Bordighera Press, NY: Calandra Institute © 2007. 2008 Winner of the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry, Copyright © 2007 by Daniela Gioseffi. Used by permission of the author.
I attempt to rearrange the past in Venetian palaces
built by blood thirsts and delicate lusts,
full of plaintive strains of Monteverdi
trilled in Gothic and Baroque arches.
Through a camera’s eye
I look backward on hope,
every lost stroke between us
into something fair and kind —
as here, in the present, dying drones
drone in autumn sun,
leaves rot, purple asters turn to grey seed —
like tiny mushroom clouds dotting umber and sienna land-
scapes of late autumn, muddled earth
with the garbage of greed
everywhere, crushed cans, chemical poisons, wasted paper.
In my mind, dusk pours in slanted light of high windows,
twilight motes dance amid red velvet curtains
in Venetian Palaces above shimmering waters,
narrow stone streets—
we lie embracing, intertwined forever
until darkness erases us,
and the woods here into dark.
The stamina of memory opens an aperture,
a window on forever, before
the nuclear age
when only a burnt out
floating of Earth toward Vega,
after the sun was done,
was an end so far from Venetian palaces
it couldn’t be
Acknowledgement: From Word Wounds and Water Flowers: Poems by Daniela Gioseffi, VIA Folios/ Bordighera Press NewYork, © 1995 by Daniela Gioseffi. Published by permission of the author who holds all copyrights. Also appeared in Descant: To See Venice Is to Live, Vol. 36, #129, Sumer 2005. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
AS WHEN SOME SILENCED SINGER HEARS HER ARIA
or creatures crawl riding foam to hurry back to salty home,
as oceans pound fruit to pecking pipers,
or shells keep tunes in ear-like chambers,
filled with sand and sea to roam
like songs rejoicing feathered nest and comb
as warm eggs crack chirping hunger, and a child slithers
forth to touch, smell, see, hear earthly cries and laughters
pushed suckling free from nurturing womb —
my tongue is loosed beyond a private caroling, my pen prances
urged by mysterious love as if it had no part in what is sighed
as Earth sings praises through me,
my eyes: green sea, red skies, wildflowers, a child who dances
when loved beyond the pain of men’s tribal wars, pride,
threatened suicide, and bloody rivalry.
*Vittoria Colonna is emulated in the Petrachan style of sonnet. Daughter of the Grand Constable of Naples, and born in Rome, she was married to the Marquis of Pescara, and had two happy youthful years, on the island of Ischia, with her husband before constant invasions by Spain, France, and Germany, resulted in his imprisonment and involvement in wars of resistance. She carried on a long correspondence in prose and verse with her absent husband who was wounded and died in battle in 1525. She retired to Ischia where her grief and love for her husband found expression in her sonnets. She never remarried, but had many admirers, among them Michelangelo, who dedicated some of his finest sonnets to her. Her collection of poems, which appeared in 1538, was the first volume of poetry by a European woman to be published and widely read.
I AM A MEDITERRANEAN
Nerves can’t reach the passion
that spills in the blue Adriatico.
I’m a wild insomniac
and want a warlock to come to me
in the night with magic
and say stop trying to do what’s good.
I’m a bat who clings upside down
in a corner of the daylight and flies
in the dark while the rest are asleep.
I want to assassinate memory.
I need rest from this body
that offers ecstasy
through clenched teeth.
No purity to reach,
no virginal dawn to wait for
and rape, I pace in a ferment,
and take my voice in my arms
and rock it to sleep.
First appeared in: Eggs In The Lake: Poems. BOA Editions, Ltd: Rochester, NY. Copyright ©1977 by Daniela Gioseffi. Created with a grant/award from The NY State Council for the Arts of The National Endowment for the Arts. Foreword, Copyright ©1977 by John Logan. Used by permission of the author, Daniela Gioseffi.
All poems on this post: © Daniela Gioseffi
Published with the permission of Daniela Gioseffi