East met West in 1950s Phnom Penh.
A flash of rock and roll took root.
A boy band in white slacks and polka-dot shirts
and girl singers with divine voices captivated the free.
English, French and American beats
hypnotized souls and throbbed hearts.
Until the Khmer Rouge massacred the music,
alongside artists and nearly 2 million innocents.
Do you remember singers Sinn Sisamouth and
Ros Serey Sothea? Their lost sounds thought forgotten
now found. Hard to forever silence a fleeting
generation’s strong voices and electric guitars.
Stars, Spots and Stripes
In the Jawai hills of India,
amber-eyed leopards and villagers,
who harvest mustard and wheat,
live in harmony. A spirit presides
at the Shiva temple on Perwa Hill.
Priests descend and mix with Rabari nomads.
In the West, creatures with spots and stripes
shoot dirty breezes, shout magazines at the innocent.
Fail to recognize race and faith.
Percussionist Davi Vieira speaks all languages
in the tongue of drums, triangle, jazzy castanets,
a set of bells that hangs from his mic.
He seduces fans with his thumping hands.
We respond to his Bahia beats with hips and feet.
Swaying to his fast forro strains from Northeast Brazil.
Blame it on Salvador, home of Davi, storyteller
Jorge Amado, and Africans who hit the shores in the 1500s.
Where the Atlantic’s thrashing waves are wildest.
Davi can’t hide his joy at tantalizing fans wrapped in a trance.
Capped with a checkered green hat, he prances on stage.
Midnight strikes too soon.
He concludes the set, chanting “Sorry Love.”
Festa Della Donna
Today vendors on every corner of Milan will gift
brilliant mimosas to ladies passing by—
female friends will dine in trattorie without their beaus.
Some traditions stay etched on your soul.
A friend in Hove will celebrate her mother’s birthday,
lay a ring of flowers at her Brighton grave.
The once vibrant school principal spent
final years in her daughter’s care. I was there.
Two gallant gals working as stringers in Italy
embraced a future full of new beginnings and fun.
They met fulfillment in unexpected ways, found
love where it all began, clutching yellow dreams on Ladies Day.
City on a River
What Chester made no longer makes Chester.
Scott Paper, Ford Motor Company left for sunnier climes.
Blight replaced a factory town flanked by a
shipyard and ethnic neighborhoods that glowed.
Before communities dismantled and racial
clamor tolled, mapping out his peace plan,
Martin Luther King chose the city
for divinity studies at Crozer Seminary.
Landmarks of learning endure, like
Pennsylvania Military College, now Widener
University, and Chester High School.
I pore over my mother’s yellowed letters.
Chester High students credit their old English
teacher for love of reading, guidance, success.
I feel a flicker of her hometown allure.
Change rains lightly.
A national soccer team built a stadium
in the city’s largest park.
Games sell out. Freighters glide by.
The glistening Delaware River reflects the stars.
He fled the Spanish civil war
to pioneer the chainmail miniskirt,
throwaway chic, the “Unwearables.”
Paco Rabanne crafted dresses
from metal rings, paper and plastic.
He concocted citrusy perfumes
and Barbarella’s space-age costumes.
Now free, he travels non-stop in search
of his place in the cosmos. He sees auras.
Rejects the fluff his customers covet.
Fashioned a Spartan life free of attachment.
Blames technology for the fear
and stress gripping planet earth.
Ten musicians from the countryside
Keep alive the samba strains
Of their Sao Braz forefathers,
Play the Delta Blues of Brazil.
Two brothers sing in harmony
While tapping tambourines.
The guitarist, once exiled to France,
is back and on key.
Four ladies in bright white skirts
Twirl to the subtle beat
Samba with their feet.
A tangle of beads sways with their bodies.
They speak with hands and hips,
Invite onlookers to the floor.
Delight in this music
At risk of dying with the band.
A lady from Puglia landed in
East Harlem in the early 1900s.
She bore eight children including my father.
Headed by an unskilled laborer,
The family relocated to Bryn Mawr.
I hear my grandmother held court
From a fluffy sofa
Next to a living room staircase.
She insisted her children see no hurdles,
Emulate the prosperous WASPS
who settled on Philadelphia’s Main Line.
I hear she taught Italian immigrants English.
I hear she served tea from a real silver service
To paesani who visited her tiny row home.
I hear she pilfered a close friend’s sweater.
My father adored her.
My mother said she was crazy.
I bear her name
And want to be nothing and everything like her.
Art En Plein Air
No need to enter museums or galleries
To experience Buenos Aires art and politics.
Just wander the streets of the Palermo barrio
where mothers and sisters
whose sons and brothers went missing
send messages through vibrant murals.
Or read the walls flanking chi-chi restaurant Tegui
to learn how fiercely Argentines revere the islas Malvinas.
No need for rich patrons to be an Argentine artist.
Make city walls and private homes your canvas.
Theatre designer Jazz commemorates two murdered boys
with a charcoal of raging bulls.
Pum Pum channels fun with her pink and blue cats
and a big banged little girl in high heel boots.
A Cuban artist splashes a wall
with the expressive eyes of his father-in-law
whose sole dream was to have his ashes
returned to Buenos Aires.
Inspired by songwriter Sixto Rodriquez
After a decades-long search,
they finally found him,
living in obscurity in Detroit,
doing demolition and still strumming his guitar.
Staying put protected his gentle soul.
Maybe the world wasn’t ready for a Mexican
Bob Dylan in the 70s,
a musical poet who feared little,
shocked many with his anti-establishment verse.
For 40 years he never knew
that he was a hero in South Africa,
where anti-apartheid wars raged.
His banned songs gave hope to
the most youthful fighters.
In a faraway land of mines, farms,
and vibrant colors, Sixto Rodriguez was far
more revered than the Rolling Stones.
The protesters found sustenance in his anthems,
kept the passion and music alive.
Rich Folks Hoax
The native sons ignored his light,
so he lived unmarred by the music world’s games,
a father of three and laborer in a no-frills world.
Record companies could take his money,
but his words remained true.
Did it begin in Italy in the shadow of La Maiella, where a young man
trudged down unpaved roads in search of a better life, a bigger world,
new prospects for love and work, leaving behind brothers and sisters
with whom he’d never again share a meal or a laugh or a hug.
Resolved to set stakes in an unseen land and never look back.
How does New York fit in, where a mismatched couple met and married
at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. An unassuming truck driver with his
driven wife who taught English to immigrant children while raising eight
offspring, East Harlem residents for years until they were enticed away
to a street of row homes filled with paesani.
Or are the true origins Pennsylvania where another mismatched couple
met and married, an ambitious hardware merchant with his English teacher
wife who quit work to raise three daughters. Depression-era parents who knew
how to stretch a dime, worked hard at everything, instilled values and morals,
but found time for travel and play.
Why the lure to Italy? To know them better, to learn their language,
to walk the roads now paved. Where the secrets unraveled of how to be
an Italian, how to be an American and you couldn’t stay forever as hard
as you tried — like them, always looking ahead to new opportunities.
Have you now come full circle, dropping anchor in New York, a place
that overwhelmed you as a child, inhabiting a multicultural universe
where no one invites you over for an espresso or suggests a lake ride on a
quiet Sunday afternoon, where you struggle like those who came before,
but no paesano holds out a hand.
Amy reading at Cornelia St. Café, NY, 4. 13
Amy Barone’s new poetry chapbook, Kamikaze Dance, was published by Finishing Line Press, where she was recognized as a finalist in their New Women’s Voices Competition of 2014. Her poetry has appeared in Gradiva, Impolite Conversation (UK), Italian Americana, Paterson Literary Review, Philadelphia Poets, The Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow and Wild Violet, among other publications.
She spent five years as Italian correspondent for Women’s Wear Daily and Advertising Age. Her first book, Views from the Driveway, was published by Foothills Publishing. From 2012-2015, she served as a board member of the Italian American Writers Association and co-hosted their monthly readings. She belongs to PEN America Center and the brevitas online poetry community that celebrates the short poem. A native of Bryn Mawr, PA, Barone lives in New York City.