Michelle Reale ~ Three Prose Poems

The Godfather, 1972

Our ances­tors came from the wrong coun­try. Our pride was mis­placed. The well-thumbed  mass mar­ket­ed paper­back would yel­low with age and then the sil­ver screen would explode. These were domains of great influ­ence ripe for exploita­tion and mythol­o­gy.  When I asked the old bird catch­er from Palermo about the Mafia he told me he didn’t know what I was talk­ing about.  You are like an old lady, he told me. When he flicked his ash it meant go away and don’t come back. That year my legs grew like stalks and throbbed like a tooth gone rot­ten to the core.  My father poured rub­bing alco­hol into his cal­loused palm and knead­ed my calves.  That it was a place­bo would not occur to me until years lat­er.  Deception was a device that worked. They said it was what we were made from.  The pain was a sur­ro­gate for some­thing I could­n’t have giv­en voice to if I tried.  You’ll grow out of it, he assured me.  Eventually we all do, he muttered.


Ornithology, 1972

Loneliness was a des­per­ate address and I kept los­ing my way. I rifled through the junk draw­er in the kitchen where my moth­er stock­piled the thick cush­ioned Mass cards with the satiny fin­ish on the inside, like lit­tle coffins you could send through the mail. The sun that sum­mer dragged me along the bak­ing side­walks then threw me over its shoul­der.  People dis­ap­peared or were prepar­ing to.  Death was in prox­im­i­ty. I strug­gled to under­stand the still­ness of it.  The train came and went at reg­u­lar inter­vals, and guid­ed our days.  I’d lis­ten to the roar of their engines gath­er­ing speed, then the mourn­ful whis­tle that sound­ed like a dirge.  I read cloud for­ma­tions like a horo­scope and looked for signs, but of what I could nev­er dis­cern. The Argentinian lady next door with the lisp told me that red car­di­nals were good omens and she’d been look­ing for one ever since her migra­tion under duress.  The indus­tri­al mias­ma of our block didn’t encour­age them.  My moth­er said, believe. I thought of my friend, pulled from the pool in front of me, blue as den­im.  I remem­ber his moth­er scream­ing, I hope it’s not one of mine. That day I wore a bathing suit of corn­flower blue, a col­or that still gives me fits of malig­nant nos­tal­gia. Outside, my moth­er smoked a cig­a­rette in the dri­ve­way, a brand that sig­ni­fied the long way she had come, squint­ed through the smoke and point­ed up.  I saw the blur of a red bird. She seemed sur­prised and said:  there goes your angel.


Pyrexia, 1972

My moth­er watched us with her third eye from the kitchen table where she choked down her dry Melba toast and black cof­fee. I lay in a fever dream on an over­stuffed couch with the 1776 colo­nial theme uphol­stery, a war of inde­pen­dence rag­ing around me.  My fever dream led me head­long into famil­ial bound­aries that only a blood cousin once removed could breach.  My sib­lings and I numer­at­ed account­abil­i­ty while my broth­er told the fam­i­ly for­tune in the con­stel­la­tion of the incar­na­dine rash that engulfed me, but made my blue eyes pop. But the news was not good and he retreat­ed to a fortress of his own mak­ing.  I was appro­pri­ate­ly irra­di­at­ed by the Philco col­or tele­vi­sion that held me in its thrall. I thought in some mis­guid­ed way that it could cure me. I heard my father who was for­ev­er out­side. The click and whir of the push mow­er sound­ed like a per­sis­tent cav­al­ry. Come inside, I repeat­ed like and order, but could not use my words. Up from the couch and set­tled into a perch on the win­dow I caught a glimpse of him, with a great wingspan and his feet bare­ly touch­ing the ground. I pulled the bro­cade cur­tains my moth­er sewed with her very own fine feath­ered hands around me while my broth­er laid claim to an ado­les­cent rebel­lion and bleak­ness that I would be a par­ty to, all in good time.


Michelle Reale is the author of Blood Memory: Prose Poems (Idea Press), Season of Subtraction (Bordighera Press,2019), In the Blink of a Mottled Eye (Kelsay Books, 2020) and the forth­com­ing Confini: Poems of Refugees in Sicily (Cervena Barva Press, 2021). She is the Founding and Managing Editor of Ovunque Siamo: New Italian-American Writing.