February 18, 2018

Dante Di Stefano


for my wife, one month after the birth of our daughter

You look like the world in your rocking chair,
the nightlight a butterfly flowering
the moon of your breast beaconing against
the thought that what we are living through might
destroy us. We are safe in suburb
and side street and at work I now only
think of you and our little girl, except
today when my student, Angel Cruz (not
his name), smiled and told me how he’d paid off
his debt to the men who had smuggled him
across the border and now he could save
one hundred dollars from the three hundred
a week he earned washing dishes to send
to his mother back in Guatemala,
unless ICE raids the diner where he works;
he worries, but he doesn’t stop smiling,
and I am grateful that our girl will grow
into the small axe of the self without
such worries. She will have other worries,
the sad strange knowledge that our comfort comes
at a cost. Always. It is true, before
she was born I didn’t really know love
or fear, but now both are braiding rivers
inside my chest and a new chamber thumps
wifely inside each chamber of my heart.
Meanwhile, the football coaches arm themselves
with dirty jokes as the president tweets,
the EPA pins Silver Stars to dead
polar bears, and somewhere in the Midwest
someone’s making a confederate flag
out of melted red plastic army men.
To our newborn child I say: sweet cluster
of cells containing a cosmos, this world
you have entered now would terrify me,
if I did not understand the body
as writ for flying, as juke, hew, and cleave,
as among the ruin and breakage, this shine,
if I did not know your birthright is fire,
your mother’s real name, Illumination.

from Poets Respond
February 18, 2018

[download audio]


Dante Di Stefano: “This is a Valentine’s Day poem for my wife, written while thinking about the many immigrant students I have taught over the past decade in my job as a high school English teacher. The conversation with the student in the poem is based on a real conversation I had with a student last week. With the continued debate over DACA in the news yet again this week, and the perpetual virulent rhetoric about a wall on our southern border, the commercial holiday seems crasser than usual this year. However, I am an optimist. I believe in my newborn daughter’s ability to change the world. I believe in my wife and in our family. I believe in Love.” (web)

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