You are like a flightless bird
in a new country with
a fat, wriggling larva on
your tongue, swallowed with pain,
and disgust. It leaves an aftertaste like the plague.
Michelle Messina Reale comes to Sicily regularly, as the faculty leader of groups of students from Arcadia University, and for her own private research. As part of Exedra’s “Conversazioni in Sicilia” series, and as a first Poesie e Prosecco night, Michelle was invited to read some of her poems from the collection “Birds of Sicily” 2016, a series of reflections on the experiences and sentiments of Italian emigrants to the USA inspired by her grandfather’s life. Michelle read her original poems in English alternating with Italian translations of a selection of poems, to an appreciative local audience and her Arcadia students. The poems express eloquently the harshness of life as an immigrant in the USA, lyrical recollections of the lost homeland and the intimate laceration caused by what one was in one’s former life and what one becomes in one’s new life.
Two years after the famous Messina earthquake, you were conceived in the shadow of terror and loss. The capricious hand of the Catholic God, robed and regal, turned their small, mean lives over. Mistrust, thus, finds fertile ground, attaches itself like gold links to the intricate chain of DNA. Sociopaths, the maudlin, the dictators and the depressives hatch in the cold shadow of lack and want. Mothers smile, show their worn brown nubs nonetheless. The fetus curled in the rock-hard belly, its mandate set. This is what we might imagine: you raised your tiny, wrinkled pugno di ferro. The townspeople, upon your birth, blow kisses that scorch and freeze the cheeks on which they land. When you arrive it is due, in part, to your already mature and jagged teeth with which you gnawed your way out, already, a plan for survival.
The delicate yet fanged poetry in Birds of Sicily draws from the depths of history and blends voluptuous landscapes with raw depictions of human fragility
Michelle Messina Reale is associate professor and librarian at Arcadia University. She is the author of nine collections of poetry including Confini: Poems of Refugees in Sicily, forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press, 2018 and Season of Subtraction, forthcoming from Bordighera Press, 2018.. Reale’s work has been published widely both online and in print. She has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her work appeared in the 2010 Best of the Net Anthology. She conducts ethnography among African refugees in Sicily and conducts research in may other areas, including all aspects of Italian-American identity and life, narrative inquiry and inheritance, and others . She holds an MFA in poetry. She is Sicilian and Calabrese on her father’s side, Neopolitan on her mother’s. You can reach Michelle at ovunquesiamo1@.