by Joanna D'Angelo

How to Kill Your Father 

He breaks a promise on the road to Firenze.
You will not speak to him all through
the drive in the Tuscan hills,
the rented Alfa Romeo bitches
but the poplar's got your tongue,
long and green and aloof.

You abandon the car and walk
into a Roman afternoon,
you know how to kill your father,
he knows how to kill you.

The wind is waving little white
handkerchiefs wilting in the heat,
they are for tears and for truce
but your eyes are still red for quarrel.

Your head is being kneaded
like dough in the noon
baker's hand.  Your flesh
sizzles in the skewers
of your bones.  Then evening
comes like a nervous sweat,
as anger condenses
dew in cool grass.

You are alone on the highway to the 
Your north american eduction
has taught you how to kill a father,
but you are walking down an Italian
way, so you will surrender
and visit him in the hospital
where you will be accused
of wishing his death
in wanting a life
for yourself.

A scorpion's sting darkening
your heart buries July in Italy.

Mary di Michele

This is the poem. This is the poem that struck me like a lightning bolt when I first read it at the age of 20 in a Can Lit course at university.

I'm sure this has happened to everyone - especially at a younger age and especially in school where you are beginning to travel down various paths to self-discovery.  A particular writer or philosopher will truly resonate with you and then that light will turn on in your mind and suddenly you'll think that you understand everything - finally! But then as you get older - you realise - er - no that's not quite the case.

However, the work of Italian Canadian poet Mary Di Michele has stayed with me - I've read everything she has written and I love her work.  Her poetry is full of stories of familial conflict and tales of immigrant tragedy and pathos but also sensual discoveries and most of all a search for identity.  When I was in school I was so taken by her work and the poetry of Mennonite Canadian poet Di Brandt that I did a term paper comparing their work.  The title was: The Intersection of Feminism and Ethnicity in the Poetry of Mary Di Michele and Di Brandt.  I firmly believed at the time that the two notions could not co-exist in a peaceful and harmonious manner.  When feminism and ethnicity intersect there is always conflict.  I believed that immigrants cocooned themselves to the point of isolation in many cases and their children - those born in L'America or those who came over at a very young age - essentially straddled two very different worlds.  Those transplanted cultures grew into something different and unique from their mother country but there was much conflict between generations and that conflict was felt very acutely by the children - and I will go further to say - even more so by the daughters.

Obviously, as time marches on and immigrants assimilate all of this shifts and changes but the past is deeply rooted in our minds as children of immigrants.  I could go on and on about this - but I must also add that it wasn't all bad or negative - and I don't want to give the impression that I am not thankful to be Canadian nor that I am in constant conflict with my family or my cultural roots.  This is art after all - and art magnifies and intensifies life.  But I know that for my parents - leaving Italy at such a young age with absolutely nothing and coming to a strange and very cold country where Italians were not wanted, liked or accepted - was not a great experience.  The fact that they worked - physically worked - very hard- all their lives - and made huge sacrifices is something that I am acutely aware of.  This is what Mary Di Michele is aware of as well - and it's what she beautifully addresses in her work.

What struck me so much about Mary Di Michele's work -well aside from the fact that she is from the same region in Italy that my family is from - so there are even more connections - is her ability to both depict love, anger and respect towards her family in equal measure at the same time.  Even though she wrote about metaphorically killing her father (and I know her work was very personal and very much connected to her own background) her work is also imbued with dry humour and a kind of shoulder shrug at life:


Horns blare as tires squeal around a fast corner
at Clinton an College
Voices compete for what's left of the air
frequenting a sidewalk café where I nurse
an espresso in honour of the full moon.

Men come in packs of five or six
like cheap cigars, wine-dipped.
Laughter crinkles their eyes
as they talk and blow smoke
and keep the shine on their shoes.
They admire, very much, each other's suits.
They have forgotten their work-clothes
with their wives.
Tonight they want women they can buy
with champagne and cherries.
Their wives are okay
but they're like money in the bank,
gathering interest, not to be touched.

I don't want to question anybody's love too closely.
Mine keeps my back straight and my legs crossed.
I order an espresso and drink
one for myself and then one for the man
I've been waiting for,
who won't show up.
Summer though makes it all right.

I love that so much of her imagery is inspired by the Mediterranean. Even in her more sensual poems there is always that dark undercurrent of disconnection/despair/alienation/ and ultimately the notion of dual identity - or split identity that children of immigrants have.


His limpid skin is green gold as he reclines
in a shade that crowns him with the leaves of vines.
As smooth as the golden skinned grapes his firm
thighs are about to burst their denim husks,
the golden thighs of a man of bronze.

Eyes of pale amber, with the bite of brandy.
Lips that kiss her lady's shoe, her knee,
the liquid outward curve of her hip,
lips that call her madonna,
his dream of a bright aproned jewel for his 
he polishes it there in the long grass of August
until he rips her leisurely as a silk,

and she cries out caught
with one bare foot in a village in the Abruzzi,
the other busy with cramped English speaking toes in
she strides the Atlantic legs spread
like a Colossus.

Photography of a girl dressed as a gypsy,
child waist pinched by a red girdle,
for Carnevale,

in another world, wearing the black academic gown,
a rabbit skin about her shoulders,
she hangs on the wall of a suburban bungalow.

Hope you've enjoyed my poetic trip down memory lane.  I don't write much poetry but I enjoy reading it.  I find it quite challenging because it requires such a precise and deceptively simple use of language to convey such complex and profound ideas - well the poetry that I like anyway.  I also like promoting the work of lesser known artists and writers which is why I wanted to write about Mary di Michele today. That and because I'm in a reflective mood. ;)

Ciao for now.

Photo: Henry Cartier Bresson


  1. Gorgeous, evocative poetry, Jo. You should also check out Barbara Hamby - here's a sample:
    And any Cartier-Bresson photo's amazing.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is fantastic:

    'Tonight they want women they can buy
    with champagne and cherries.
    Their wives are okay
    but they're like money in the bank,
    gathering interest, not to be touched.'

    I've worked with these guys! Most definitely, when I lived in Toronto.

    I enjoyed each of these so much, Joanna. I write poetry and love learning from the mastery of someone like Mary di Michele, whom I'd not encountered before today.

  3. Blogger ate my earlier comment. :(
    The poetry's wonderfully evocative, I loved it. Likewise the Cartier-Bresson photo (but you can never go wrong with a master like him).
    Hope you check out Barbara Hamby - she's amazing too!

  4. Hi Cate - yay! your comment came through - don't you just love her work? Thank you for telling me about Barbara Hamby - I will def. check it out!

  5. Julia - ha! I know there are plenty of them around aren't there. And I'm glad that you like Mary Di Michele - I love discovering contemporary poets that I've never read before as well - it feels like you've just found a little treasure chest just waiting to be opened and explored. And you my dear should post some of your poetry - here maybe for your next post! ;)



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