“Arizona” by Pietro Federico

Pietro Federico


My father showed me the bison’s dead body 
aflame with sunset.
See, my son, how the sun
promises another chance,
without words an oath
of blood between him and the bison.
And I looked with dismay and understood.
At forty I put on my father’s headdress
to act like a native,
to make some money
so that the creditors would leave me alone. 
I was of few words like him, but I 
was just not going to stay in that role.
I couldn’t remember a word of Apache
and even less the sayings of the Mescalero.
I hang out with others in Heritage Square
in Phoenix, in front of Bianco pizza joint.
We play tunes from the eighties, the nineties …
Maybe I’m just wiped out,
but from that reed flute
the notes seem to me too ripped-off
for death to stop their dishonor.
So my vision gets blurry.
And over the reed flute I see my father
in the pizzeria window
beyond the crowd gathered around. 
From the desert forever settled in my lungs
a blaze of sand rises and burns my eyes. 
There are so many reasons why,
and now I can’t find what to say.
I miss my cue.
A century and a half too late, 
in my throat the saliva dries.
From the man in the window, not a word of blame.
It’s not my father or your god, but me 
returning my own gaze.
I feel the tears within me rise
but remain quiet while the music plays.
Warm visions full of tears:
the great Spirit who in the shape of the wind
used to enter our tents, touching our skin,
infusing his soul into our own
from the reeds near the camp.
My father stared at us as holy and fair as the sunset.
See, my son, how the sun promises another chance.
The bison and my dismay: he stared at us both.
Our bodies painted by the steady red flash 
of the same oath. 
Translated from the Italian by John Poch

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022
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Pietro Federico is an Italian poet who lives in Rome. His book, La Maggioranza delle Stelle (Most of the Stars)—50 poems, one for each state—was published in Italy last year by Edizione Ensemble. | John Poch: “The poems in Pietro Federico’s La Maggioranza delle Stelle are akin to Federico Garcia Lorca’s Poet in New York in its famously surreal and wide-eyed look at our country; its examination of not just New York, but other landscapes; its singular voice (even though multiple voices arise in the pages); its deep spiritual quest, and its startling imagery. But Pietro is his own unique poet. I doubt there is anyone writing poems like this in Italy. It seems to me that we Americans take for granted many of the things that Pietro is able to see in this body of work, especially our own history. There is something of many of our best poets in his work: William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, Wendell Berry, just to name a few. Many of Pietro’s poems in this book rhyme intermittently, and I have tried to play with that sonic quality by rhyming in my translations as well as other linguistic mirroring.” (web)

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