Emilio DeGrazia, a long-time resident of Winona, Minnesota, founded Great River Review in 1977. A collection of fiction, Enemy Country (New Rivers Press), was selected by Anne Tyler for a Writer’s Choice Award, and a novel, Billy Brazil (New Rivers Press), was chosen for a Minnesota Voices award. A second collection, Seventeen Grams of Soul, received a Minnesota Book Award in 1995, and a second novel, A Canticle for Bread and Stones, appeared in 1996. In the past few years DeGrazia published Burying the Tree, his first collection of essays, a memoir called Walking on Air in a Field of Greens, and Seasonings, a first collection of poetry. More recent have been Eye Shadow, creative non-fiction, and a book featuring Carol Stoa Senn’s creative work Shamu, Splash and Solemn. He and his wife Monica also have co-edited three anthologies of Minnesota writing, and he has served two terms as Winona’s Poet Laureate. His second book of poetry, What Trees Know, was published in 2020.
“Emilio DeGrazia is one of those writers who love the ambience of a writers’ gathering––the fraternity, the probing of ideas, whether the subject is poetry or the jock strap empire of sports. Not many people I’ve read, whether in Minnesota or beyond, write of the human condition with the same mixture of discovery, forgiveness and judgment that Emilio brings from his study. Years ago a small group of us, at the prodding of the toastmaster, were asked to identify three or four people who would be our choice if we were marooned on a desert highland and had to spend foreseeable months or years listening to each other. My first choice was Emilio. I never tire of hearing what this man has to say about the humanity around him.”
This passage––written by Jim Klobuchar, former columnist for the Minneapolis Star/Tribune and father of Amy, U.S. Senator from Minnesota–appears as a blurb on a collection of essays, Eye Shadow, published in 2016 by a regional publisher.
Odysseus: “…the well-wrought bed. I worked on it, and nobody else. The long-leaved bush of a wild olive grew inside the yard flourishing in bloom. It was thick as a pillar is. So I built the bedroom round it till I finished it with close-fitted stones and roofed it well up above.” Homer, The Odyssey, XXIII, ll. 189-193.
She wept as she watched him undo the olive tree—
Behead its crown as swiftly as he once took her maidenhead,
Then chop the stump, carve its outline with the ax,
Round the bedposts, straighten them with a line,
Drill an auger into them, then smooth the bed,
Adorn it with silver, ivory and gold,
Then lock in new ownership of the house
By constructing a chamber over the bed
Out of close-fitting stones that support the roof
And closed her in.
For twenty years Penelope had ruled her own house
As matriarch, fidelity to her and her powers
Conferred by ancient precedent.
She governed the economies of labor and food,
And kept her selfish suitors at bay.
Her husband’s hero-parade required her retreat.
In exchange for his wins on the road,
The spoils of his loins and sword,
She surrendered the concord of the loom,
And when he lured her into his olive tree bed
She trusted its artwork would cover for his artifice.
She understood the hard grounds
On which her new household was debased—
Not grains aroused by rains and soil
But gains stolen by armor and sword.
In her new olive tree bed she began to sleep
With her man’s victories, and his long absences—
His flirtations with Nausicaa and her maids,
His swine lolls with Circe, and the siring of a son, Teleganos,
That sent him scurrying to his seven year Calypso fling.
With the aroma of olive wood dizzying his brain,
The clever hero laid Penelope again in his new olive bed.
But he, who usurped her long rule, could not see
His years gaining on him, or himself
One day again far from home, on a crossroad again,
This time cut down–by Teleganos–stranger furious
At the odious Odysseus, himself a stranger
To the hero-husband who sired a son and fled—
Who got a woman’s revenge on him
That left no scent of olive tree on the bloody road.
Previously published in What Trees Know, 2020
Before the roll is called up yonder
Where race is not to the swift but everyone,
Blood lines certified by blood loss
Dissolve into swirlpools of belief.
Take, for example, tight fits in the Italian boot–
The Goths, Huns, Gauls and Celts
French fried and baked into Spanish stews
With spices from Egypt and Iran
Washed ashore from Sidon, Tunis and Troy,
All mindless of the blood and guts
Of Gilgamesh, Cyrus, Herod and Puck
Warmed by Sahara sands and Euphrates swamps
Where peasants and priests
Once wailed prayers on eerie morns
To Marduk, Ra, Zeus, and Elohim—
All blood types shimmering new hues
Awash with the rainbow skins of eels
In Mediterranean blues
Homer saw as wine-red.
Poetry in this post: © Emilio DeGrazia
Published with the permission of Emilio DeGrazia