Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Paola Corso: American Future

in memory of Mariano Procopio Corso                                                                                                                                                                   
 
 
Snapshot of my father as a young man
standing at the top of hillside steps
 
wearing a double-breasted suit and tie,
pants creased, shoes polished, his back
 
to the steel mill in the valley behind him,
his back to the jackhammer he used to drill
 
on the labor gang, its 70 pounds to his 145,
the crane he operated in a sweaty cabin
 
above a coal-fired furnace,
his back to chain-smoking stacks,
 
to chain-smoking beer gardens,
to the jackass work he skipped one day,
 
and when his father found out
he belted him before he told his son,
 
“Mario, you better learn to use
your head and not your hands.”
 
As he wore white-collar’s best
striking a pose for the camera,
 
feet anchored on higher ground,
my father set his sights ahead—
 
not at a Pittsburgh mill,
not his native Calabria                                                                                                                                         
 
or Santo Procopio,
not the patron saint
 
he was named after
for sharing a July 8th birthday
 
but signed his middle name
“Paul” instead of “Procopio.”
 
Not the steps he climbed onto a boat
crossing the ocean in steerage herds.
 
Steps where his mother
led him up by the hand,
 
pushed him through the classroom door
each morning because he was a wop
 
who couldn’t speak English, a wop
who flunked his first grade of school.
 
Steps to a job at the mill after high school,
running up and jumping down steps 
 
with a lunch bucket
swinging from his hand
 
punching in on time
with the rank and file.
 
Steps up to a World War II fighter plane
as a tail gunner in the Pacific theater
 
then to college on the GI Bill,
the stage to accept his diploma.
 
To a newspaper office,
government office,
 
school administration office,
suit and tie office.
 
What was my Italian father thinking
as he faced his American future
 
double-breasted for the camera?
What he didn’t know, couldn’t know.
 
He turned his back on an immigrant past
but his cancer faced front.
 
Dead center front.
Dead center lungs.

Paola Corso

This poem is in Paola Corso’s new collection, Vertical Bridges: Poems and Photographs due out with Six Gallery Press.

2 comments on “Paola Corso: American Future

  1. Joe Napsha
    May 2, 2020

    Great poem. Greater story about your father.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joanne Matone Samraney
    April 23, 2020

    Loved Paola Corso’s heartfelt poem! A poem that touches the heart is s successful poem for me. The personal becomes Universal

    Liked by 1 person

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