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
but I was able to right it
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.
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 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.