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