Poetry: Michelle Reale


It is good to trust others, but not to do so is much better.--- Benito Mussolini

In Rome I felt a fever. I navigated the uneven surface of the cobblestones.  People milled about in desultory ways in the summer heat.  A young mother gripped the hand of her son and yanked him to attention. Walk! she commanded, as he rubbed his eyes, the delicate skin beneath them a study in violet. All around me I felt a great energy like my heart was lit from the inside by neon, knowing it could end at any moment.  Mussolini’s balcony, above, was unimposing though I realized the importance of symbols. I wondered how his frenzied supporters were able to discern their humble dreams from his rabid tyranny.  The national flag swayed to and fro, as I lost perspective.  A tired looking man with a beautiful wife stood still, her Fendi bag clutched to the delicate scaffolding of her chest aware of her own allure.  I smelled the strong perfume and cigarette smoke that permeated everything.  Somewhere, somehow, Mussolini hovered like an inconvenient memory.  The banality of the scene caught me off guard.  I was sweating profusely, perhaps on the verge of serious hallucination or heartbreak–I’d often had difficulty discerning one from the other.  I needed something ice cold as an antidote. A small girl with ice blue eyes stood watching a man with a milk snake wrapped around his thick wrist, a small jar for coins at his twisted feet.  The balcony loomed like an imperative.  I needed political and emotional orthodoxies that I could rely on or reject at the drop of a hat.  A crooked path that might lead me astray. 




On the avenue, ghost signs blush on repurposed brick buildings.  People 

are leaving us. It was bound to happen.  Nothing can anchor them here anymore, not their cigarettes, mortgages, love affairs, imminent deadlines

proclamations of love, or their freshly stocked pantries.


There are hollow spaces where they used to be, 

silk dopamine threads of being, left behind.  Molecules of their breath persist

in spaces that have outlived them, and will outlive all of us.

Decay is marked  by successive  decades,


and the satin lined coffin is an aura that haunts our days.  

But the ones who are leaving,

and the ones who have left , leave their imprint like a shadow on an x-ray.

I see them, I walk through them. They fidget in their somber clothes.


Their sorrow is latent. They pass on the fear of what they have endured.

We are porous and so we understand and receive what they give. 

There are phases to everything and if we look close enough 

we see that the  beginning contains the end, as well. 


The new moon is elemental, as always. 

Our desires continue to beg for the care and attention 

we are too distracted to give. Time plays itself out

then is gone without even a glance in our direction.



The difference between a sarcophagus and an altar is pure intention. The dip and sway of grief can be prismatic in its display.  There were good people for whom dying was not an option and tried to make the best of it. The old man who combed his hair in the mirror one morning and was found later that evening lying on the cold tile in his bathroom might have called himself lucky.  The old women, in remembrance, wore clothing so black, they blocked out the sun.  Tradition is a twisted foot wedged in the door of unbecoming. Strong coffee poured into miniscule cups can keep sorrow at bay for only so long.  Oh, but the bitter, bitter taste it leaves on the parched and ridged tongue.


Bio: Michelle Reale is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently In the Year of Hurricane Agnes (Alien Buddha Press, 2022) . She is the Founding and Managing Editor of both The Red Fern Review and OVUNQUE SIAMO: New Italian-American Writing. She is on faculty at Arcadia University where she  teaches poetry in the MFA program.

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