Poetry: Selections from John L. Stanizzi

Feeling it and Thinking it

History has become littered

with the broken souls of the defeated.

-Steven Redhead – Life is a Dance


I allow my mind to beat me.

It causes the whole day to growl.

I am grateful that it is painless,

like watching a film

of being attacked.

Odd that feeling, the intimacy of touch,

and the mind, that malicious shape-shifter

are two different things.


A pill for each possible

reason I am beating myself.

From behind a shadow

a man emerges carrying a stick.


I swallow a handful of pills.

It’s rather like gambling-

which one of these little pills

will be the winner and put me to sleep

on a blanket of king blossoms?


Our apple tree has been

taken down to its side twice

by hurricanes,

but I was able to right it

both times

with some rope, a stake,

and tempestuous resolve.

It has been upright and healthy now

for a good twenty years.

Except for a little arthritis

it produces large, firm apples

every couple of years.


Kazakhstan, east of the Caspian Sea,

possesses a name as true

and in plain site as is possible - full of apples

noticed, cultivated, raised

some 8,000 years ago,

grown near the shores of the Caspian,

which has no tides,

and its waves are invisible,

placid and medicinal.


Yet I grow hostility like jewelweed,

pulled from the ground with no effort.

revealing the fool I am.

Still I manage to calm myself,

inundated with cue marks,

and vanishing without feeling.


October 3, 1979, an F4 tornado hit Windsor, Windsor
Locks, and Suffield, Connecticut, after scraping
across myriad Connecticut towns, before assaulting
the aforementioned places. The 1979 Windsor Locks
tornado remains one of the costliest tornados to strike
the United States in at least one-hundred years, (700
million dollars). (NBC Connecticut October 1979).



Our classroom was on the second floor

of an old brownstone

on the campus of Wesleyan University.


On this particular morning

the whole building

rattled and shook

as an Aeolian wind re-carved

the landscape so subtly

we’d never notice,

not even after the storm departed,

still throwing heavy fists.


The rain was hurled harshly by the wind,

the vicious living thing.

It threw crippling hooks

against the clerestory windows.


The downpour obeyed every growling order

the wind reiterated over and over and over again,

until the huge windows

clattered in their frames

and the storm demanded entrance!


There were somewhere around

twenty-two students in the room,

frightened into silence.


Finally, Professor Strand spoke –

with a look comprising half smile, half fear.

He said, quietly, “My goodness, it certainly

is dramatic out there.”




Later that night we learned that

it was a tornado that raked over us –

one of those events that sticks

so firmly in your brain

you never, ever forget where you were

when the crisis unfolded.

At first it was reported that

this was a tornado that was raking across us,

an unbelievable 11.3 miles long –

but that was not quite right.

The ‘official’ report that came later

let us know ‘officially,’ that the tornado

was actually on the ground,

and had made its way

the entire distance to the Mass. Pike!


It was the strongest tornado

to hit Connecticut in the last 100 years.

It killed three and injured more than 500.




A killer and a thief,

it picked up weapons as it assailed the landscape

tearing simple daily objects from the ground,

throwing them madly, violently

at nothing,

at everything –

street signs, garage doors, roofs –

trash cans, shingles on homes,

torn to shreds and snapping through the sky

-sustained by the sea’s warm water,

there was no stopping it –

there were garden hoses, children’s toys,

and prayers which were dragged away by the gale,

and pulverized into something

someone might have said

sometime in the past hundred year, or more,


but no one, not one single person

heard a single, faint supplication


-for Zia Rosa (Sosie)

-August 8, 1960


It would be done the old way

Zia Rosa’s wake in the house


her casket against the three front windows

of the wooden four-story walk up


against the backdrop of hectic Albany Avenue-

some were astonished at this outmoded custom


born of scarcity and tradition

the front windows before which


she would chant the rosary every day at noon

from the quietly creaking sway


of her old rocking chair

that bony open prayer closet


in the same place where the story of the boy

who lay beneath her rocker began


he would imagine what the letters from Italy said

he would envisage walking along a beach


in what he had been told was his home

under the stacked shadows in Scilla, Calabria


looking up at the piled houses

blocking the sun from his eyes with his arm


seeing distorted faces waving from behind the sun

faces he could not recognize from here


faces he knew




large round limping men in shiny wrinkled suits

escorted their shattered women to your coffin


where the women threw themselves on top of you

chanting Oh mio Dio, mia sorella Rosa!


and the men struggled to lift their women

from your coffin Oh Madonna mi!


they pulled and pulled to get their women

off of you, over and over


this wailing and falling

this begging into the void




monumental moments are instances

whose tininess and singularity


increase their massiveness

by their refusal to diminish-


I will forever be lying

on the orange chenille couch watching a cartoon-


funny I don’t recall which one

but that is because I had heard whispers


and anticipated someone entering

to tell me about your going


I was nine years old third grade

broken left arm in a cast


when I was told I turned and pushed my tears

into the rough, square, orange pillow and wept


that was it not much before or after

just the harshness of that pillow incapable of absorbing tears


and me beginning to step off

into the distance on legs of mist



that dreadfully failed

to keep upright the news I was just given




I have been troubled by an image most of my life-

locked in your casket


now you’re either kneeling or in the fetal position

or in some corrupt combination of the two


Tony Rocco Pasquale Johnny Augustino Rosario

grappling with your coffin the apartment door too narrow


the angle of the stairs off just enough

to make sliding the coffin out impossible


the six of you rocking and scraping the casket

against the narrow door jamb


grunting with anguish for anguish was present

eventually your coffin was ejected from the tight space


crushing the pall bearers between casket and jamb

the casket upright against the cracked stained wall


it’s all wrong it’s all wrong slivers of glossy wood torn

from the upper left corner of your cist


the lightning shaped signature of a long scratch

that allowed passageway into the afterlife




why hadn’t the pall bearers

let the large crowd leave ahead of you


now they were backed up behind your bruised vertical casket

you locked into your first moments of kneeling for eternity


and from the distant avenue sirens and singing

neither of which had to do with this dark drama


the crowd had gone from grieving to terror

and someone from inside spoke quietly


--I can feel the floor sagging




Tony Rocco Pasquale

walked backwards down the stairs



their arms straight up

holding the casket over their heads


Johnny Augustino Rosario

walked down face first


bent at the knees

arms straight down under the large box


the six men struggling

to keep the casket flat


the railing hung by two bolts

one secure one dangling


the only remnant of what might have been

the last place for anyone to hang on




at the cemetery no one suggested

to look into your coffin to see how you had fallen


or maybe it never occurred to anyone

after having managed to extract you from that tightest space-


this is your destiny Zia Rosa

or part of it--the place where you will rest


holding yourself in a supple ball like an infant

growing ever more comfortable with each eon


or perhaps kneeling

never having to memorize another prayer-


every prayer in time is yours

as easy and absentminded as breathing


which I know sounds impossible

but is not

John L. Stanizzi has published twelve collections of poems. Books 13 and 14 will be released this summer or early fall. Besides A Thin Slice of Anxiety (among his favorite journals), Johnnie’s poetry has appeared widely, including in American Life in Poetry, New York Quarterly, Cortland Review, and many others. His nonfiction can be found Literature and Belief, Stone Coast, Ovunque Siamo, and many others. John received a Creative Writing-Non-Fiction Fellowship from the State of Connecticut Commission on Arts and Culture and Diversity. His story, Pants, was named The Best of 2022 by the Potto Soup Journal. A Wesleyan University Etherington Scholar, Professor of English, Manchester Community College, CT, Master Teacher/Poetry Out Loud, and an English teacher at Bacon Academy, John curated Hill-Stead Museum’s “Fresh Voices” competition for high school students. A former New England Poet of the year, Johnnie lives in Coventry CT. with his wife, Carol.