February 18, 2018

Dante Di Stefano

LOVE POEM COMPOSED UNDER THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION BEGINNING WITH MISREMEMBERED LINES FROM PABLO NERUDA AND NICANOR PARRA

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

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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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April 13, 2017

Dante Di Stefano

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH, 2017

I’ll spend it sequestered in my classroom
in upstate New York, watching the rain sheet
the asphalt on the street below, holding
the little ladder inside the apple

of a poem my students are climbing,
holding steady whatever equipment
they can carry to trim the branches back
in there. We teachers are supposed to say

keep climbing, rocket higher, clamber up,
knock loose the shale of your misconceptions,
but some days it is hard not to dwell in
the knuckles’ ache of whatever bad news

unfolds and flits and flits from screen to screen.
Some days the smell of chalk dust betrays us.
Some days the scent of lilac spells despair.
Some days, children, I want to build with you

a world less rickety, spinning slower,
jagged and pinkish at the horizon,
ricocheted with uncompromised shining,
an orchard inside a seed the wind clips out

into the heart of the heart of a field,
which is the endless golden field inside
your own wild, shrewd, dubious, strange, greening,
teenage hearts and lungs exhaling amen,

and blessing me now in my middle age.
As gorgeously unseen as the new moon,
we’ll sing from the apple’s interior;
together, children, we will choir these bones.

Poets Respond
April 13, 2017

[download audio]

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Dante Di Stefano: “I teach 10th and 12th Grade English. This poem is for my students during National Poetry Month.” (website)

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February 22, 2015

Dante Di Stefano

ELEGY FOR PHILIP LEVINE

If you’re old enough to read this you know
what work isn’t; it isn’t in poems
or in the screed a screen door delivers
when it opens and bangs shut on your thoughts
of childhood. You might even agree that
the opening salvo of “West End Blues”
matters more than anything you could write
in seven lifetimes, but so what, my friend.
Out of burlap sacks, out of kiss my ass,
we say goodbye as the factories close,
and our amber waves of grain have become
yellow lines in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
However your life unfolded, it was
an enormous yes, gathering milkweed,
sweet will, winter words, dust, and red carnations
to scatter on the graves of dictators
as an imprecation and a warning.
Now America shackles amendments
to tailpipes and all the bluebirds’ windpipes
are cut to whistling so long or “Dixie.”
Our love, your rose’s many thorns, the dew
that won’t wait long enough to stand your wren
a drink, the no one who listened to wind
speak its new truth to the moon—all are gone,
jacketed in a guttural moan off
the coast of a distant Ellis Island.
What actually took place is now lost
in the mythologies of families,
yoking stories to the dinner table,
aproning them there into immense sails,
beat in time to the pulse felt at the wrist.
We’ll never waken on a world again
where your Detroit of ’48 will be
carried and transmuted—those oily floors,
those fathers departed in fifth autumns,
those torn into light and underbellied
in stone, those cartwheels into early dusk
now become a poem with no ending.

Poets Respond
February 22, 2015

[download audio]

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Dante Di Stefano: “I hope that there will be many poems that honor the memory of Philip Levine, who died on February 14th. This is my one.”

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