Books Arrive

I’ve been tied up with post-production on a work-in-progress documentary project (more about this at another time), but I wanted to share the joy I received today when I found this literary inventory amid the pile of Amazon packages strewn in the lobby of my apartment building. Dreaming of Lemon Trees: Selected Poems is available from Finishing Line Press.

This full-length collection of poems is a combination of three previously published chapbooks—Outskirts of Intimacy (Flutter Press, 2010; second edition 2017), Vestiges (Alabaster Leaves Publishing/Kelsay Books, 2012) and In Pursuit of Infinity (Finishing Line Press, 2013). The work covers many years of my life and is comprised of narrative, confessional and philosophical poems, written in free-verse style, with a focus on identity, masculinity, family, romance, illness and death.

And I must admit it was fun to rip open the box, pull out a copy and thumb through the pages. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment to see all those poems bound in book form.

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A Poem for the Season

Autumn Acknowledgement

On this glorious autumn day—
with bright sunshine, blue skies
and refulgent orange, red and golden leaves
shimmering on the trees—
I am not thinking about
freezing temperatures and lake effect snow.
I know winter will eventually come.
I know we cannot stave off
the inevitable despair that accompanies
the turn of the seasons.

But winter is not here yet.
So I will enjoy this fall weather
while I still have the chance—
while the green grass remains uncovered
and while the warm sunshine lasts,
at least for another day.

©2019 Francis DiClemente

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The Reluctant Leaf

Here is a new autumn-themed poem I would like to share:

The Reluctant Leaf

The last maple leaf
didn’t want to leave the tree,
even though his mother
told him it was time to go,
time to break free from the limb
and fall to the ground.

The little leaf said,
“Why, why must I leave
when I can still cling to this tree?”

“Because,” his mother replied,
“it’s part of life, the cycle of nature—
we drop to the ground during fall
and return in the spring.
So come on, let go.”

“I will not. I will not,” the little leaf said.

But a stiff wind stirred and the leaf
lost its grip and twirled to the earth,
falling into his mother’s arms,
and joining his other leaf friends.

“See, that’s not so bad, is it?” his mother said.

“No Mom,” the little leaf said.

But then he asked, “Mom, am I still a leaf
if I am no longer connected to the tree?”

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Sidewalk Cutoff

While walking home along East Genesee Street in Syracuse, I encounter a man seated a bus stop located between Phoebe’s restaurant and South Crouse Avenue.

He has long, curly black hair, bronze skin and he’s dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, with a roll of flesh hanging over his waist.

He spots me as I stride toward him on the sidewalk, then flicks his fingers in a “come hither” motion. “Hey buddy, come here, can I ask you a question?”

I cut him off right away. “I don’t have any money,” I say and keep walking.

And I hear him say, the words trailing behind me, “How’d ya know what I was gonna ask you?”

And as I continue walking, I realize he’s right. I feel guilty about not giving him the chance to ask his question. In my defense, he caught me off guard and spooked me with the quick motion of his hands. But I could have stopped, stood at a distance from him and listened to what he had to say.

 

 

 

 

 

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Advance Sales of Poetry Book Ending

This is just a reminder that advance sales of my poetry book Dreaming of Lemon Trees, to be published by Finishing Line Press, end one week from today.

Dreaming of Lemon Trees by Francis DiClemente

For those who may be interested, please consider buying the book before Sept. 13, since pre-publication sales determine the press run. And thank you for taking the time to read this.

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Jacket with a Past

I came home from grocery shopping on a recent Friday night and changed into black shorts and a black T-shirt to relax for the evening. As a gag, I pulled an olive green, double-breasted blazer from the back of my closet, slipped it on and stepped into the living room; I then waited for my wife—who was seated on the couch with our three-year-old son—to look up and notice me. When she did, she howled with laughter and said, “No, no.”

“What, no good?” I asked.

“It’s so out of style,” she said. The shoulder pads are so over the top.”

Of course, I knew she was right.

And one side note: I believe I am colorblind, so while I think the jacket is olive green, it may actually be beige or light brown.

The 1980s blazer is a cross between something Sonny Crockett would have worn on Miami Vice or one of the suit jackets David Byrne of The Talking Heads could have donned while performing on stage or appearing in an MTV video.

But even though the garment is dated, I thought I looked decent modeling it, since I’m actually leaner now than I was when I bought the jacket in the late 1980s at Sangertown Square mall in New Hartford, New York (if my memory is correct). It came with me to Washington, DC for graduate film school and then to my career stops in journalism—to Venice, Florida; Toledo, Ohio; and Phoenix, Arizona.

After returning to central New York in 2006, I left the jacket in my parents’ home in Rome, until I retrieved it a few years ago and buried it in my bedroom closet in Syracuse. I decided not to discard the blazer because I thought I would find the right occasion to wear it; but I never did, as I knew the jacket’s time had passed, as had mine.

But the story does not end there because the jacket has a history. After breaking it out and seeing it encircling my frame, it reminded me of the way I felt about myself in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I was riddled with self-hatred over my chubby, underdeveloped and feminine appearance (caused in part by my hypopituitarism). No jacket back then would have made me feel good about myself when looking in the mirror.

I’d like to say I’ve moved past the low self-esteem that hounded me in my youth. But the truth is I still struggle with it daily. Professional success does not resolve it; neither does marriage nor being a decent parent. All of us must live with the non-Instagram versions of ourselves—the real, unvarnished truth we face every day—the wrapping of flesh that houses the spirit pulsating inside. And so the jacket is more than piece of clothing to me. It’s part of my past, a slice of my story I wanted to share.

I donated the blazer to the Salvation Army store, and I hope that despite its out-of-date style, someone else was able to get some use out of it.

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Hitting the 50 Mark

As I celebrate my 50th birthday today, I want to offer some brief reflections on hitting the half-century mark.

Most importantly, I must express gratitude for surviving this long. Since 1984 I have endured four surgeries to remove a craniopharyngioma (pituitary tumor) and its remnants, as well as managing the hypopituitarism that followed. In subsequent years, the diseases of osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis have been added to my medical history. But my diminishing health has taught me some important lessons. Here they are:

  1. If not this, it would be something else. Yes, I have some challenges, but I have not been given a stage four cancer diagnosis, and I do not suffer another fatal illness. And for that I am thankful.
  2. I must accept the limitations imposed on me by these diseases, keeping the attitude of always trying to do my best and reevaluating my goals and what I am able to accomplish.
  3. The importance of cultivating an attitude of gratitude. I am thankful for my family, friends and full-time employment status, but I also continually remind myself to be grateful for the things we often take for granted. For me these are: standing upright, breathing normally, having brain function (although somewhat impaired at times), having five working senses and working limbs.

So there’s only one more thought on turning 50: I don’t know how many more years I have left on this planet, but I will try to make each day memorable, not in achievement but in the ways I connect with others, spread compassion and leave a positive impact wherever I tread.

 

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Expressions by Vincent

In remembrance of Vincent van Gogh, who passed away at age 37 on July 29, 1890, I wanted to share some profound words from the great Dutch painter, written in letter form to his brother Theo. Through these words, we feel the heart and spirit of an artist who would not be denied his destiny to create master works of oil on canvas.

Self-Portrait, 1887. Art Institute of Chicago.

This letter is dated July 21, 1882, and it appears in the collection The Letters of Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent writes:

“What I want to express, in both figure and landscape, isn’t anything sentimental or melancholy, but deep anguish. In short, I want to get to the point where people say of my work: that man feels deeply, that man feels keenly.

“… What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and never will have, in short the lowest of the low.

“All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.

“… Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.

“… Art demands dogged work, work in spite of everything and continuous observation.

“… I am not without hope, brother, that in a few years’ time, or perhaps even now, little by little you will be seeing things I have done that will give you some satisfaction after all your sacrifices.”

Gogh, Vincent van, and Ronald. Leeuw. The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. London: Allen Lane, Penguin Press, 1996. Print.

Wheatfield with Crows, 1890. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

 

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Dreaming of Lemon Trees

Dreaming of Lemon Trees by Francis DiClemente

I am pleased to announce that Dreaming of Lemon Trees, a full-length collection of poems, is slated to be published by Finishing Line Press on Nov. 8. Advance sales are underway and will continue until Sept. 13.

Dreaming of Lemon Trees is a combination of three previously published chapbooks—Outskirts of Intimacy (Flutter Press, 2010; second edition 2017), Vestiges (Alabaster Leaves Publishing/Kelsay Books, 2012) and In Pursuit of Infinity (Finishing Line Press, 2013).

This book is comprised of narrative, confessional and philosophical works, written in free-verse style, with a focus on identity, masculinity, family, romance, illness and death. These poems are accessible to all readers and address issues that people deal with in their daily lives.

Pre-publication sales will determine the press run, so if anyone is interested, you can order the book online. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I appreciate it. Below you’ll find some excerpts from the collection.

Outskirts of Intimacy (2010; second edition 2017)

Stanwix Street

A vanilla ice cream cone
covered with sprinkles of dirt,
a handful tossed by small grimy hands
across a chain-link fence.
A blond child’s whine—
flat, constant and eerily melodic.
The girl then turning away,
screaming upstairs to her mother,
sound asleep in the mid-August heat,
the lime-green curtains fluttering in the
second-story window of the adjacent brick building.
The child just standing there, scraping off the grit
and licking the melting residue
trickling down her forearm.

Post-Op Image, 1984

Sprawled out on my mother’s bed,
I hear chunks of ice falling from the roof,
and a city snowplow rushing past our house.

I tilt my neck to glimpse at the wooden crucifix
perched above my mother’s head,
and feel my putting-green hair and
surgical scar meandering from ear to ear.

I then pester her with a flurry of questions,
diverting her attention from a Danielle Steel book.
She delivers no rebuke, though,
but merely clasps her nut-brown rosary beads,
and brushes them gingerly
against the disfigurement.

St. Peter’s Cemetery

I extend a hand to touch an angel trapped in marble.
Its face is cool and damp, like the earth beneath the slab.
I pose a question to my deceased father,
Knowing the answer will elude me.
For his remains are not buried in this cemetery,
But instead rest on a shelf
In my sister’s suburban Ohio house.

Vestiges (2012)

Streetlight Paradise

Chalk marks on sidewalks,
fireflies stalking the night,
creaky porch steps,
chain-link nets and
the crack of the bat.

Sour-puss lips break a smile,
then sneak a kiss.
It’s cool to hold hands with
the girl of your dreams,
the one who says she’ll
love you forever.

But forever is too far away.
Our time is now—a passing moment
when our parents look the other way.

Summer fun in the springtime
of our lives, sucking it all in
under this streetlight paradise.

Father’s Day Forgotten

Daddy and Christi parted ways at a bus depot
In the early morning hours.
No big scene, just a kiss on the cheek,
Then she turned around and was gone for good—
Hopping aboard the Trailways bus
Headed westbound for Chicago.
And she never looked back.

Daddy went home to his beer bottle and sofa seat,
And he drew the living room curtains
On the rest of the world,
Letting those four eggshell walls
Close in and swallow him up,
Wasting away in three empty rooms and a bath.

And the memories can’t replace his lost daughter and wife.
So he tries not to remember his mistakes
Or how he drove them away.
Instead he recalls Halloween pumpkins
Glowing on the front porch,
Training wheels moving along the uneven sidewalk,
Little hands reaching for bigger ones in the park,
And serving Saltine crackers and milk
To chase away the goblins that haunted
Dreams in the middle of the night.

Now Christi has a life of her own,
And she lets the answering machine catch
Daddy’s Sunday afternoon phone call.
She never picks up and rarely calls back.
So Daddy returns to the green couch
Pockmarked with cigarette burns.
He closes his eyes, opens the door to his memory vault
And watches the pictures play in slow-motion.
He rewinds again and again
Without noticing the film has faded
And the little girl has stepped out of the frame.

Revelation

A courtship of contempt,
filled with swirling fury and churning angst,
not halted by the hands of God.
Zealous rituals express unwavering faith,
and outstretched arms set hearts aflame.

Trees topple under a crescent moon—
a gleaming scythe that carves the frost-burnt night,
invoking stones to crush the gnarled root,
as fragments of identity rupture
into paralyzing self-hate.

In Pursuit of Infinity (2013)

Dreaming of Lemon Trees

I dream of words
I strive to recapture
When I awaken in the morning.
I dream of stories with endings unknown,
Vibrant scenes imagined in my sleep—
A Degas ballerina alone in her dressing room,
A wagon train backlit on the horizon,
A hummingbird dancing on the windowsill,
And a lemon tree in the church courtyard
In mid-afternoon.
Wherever I go in my dreams,
The air is balmy and sunlight abundant.
Trees sway and the scent of evergreen
Finds its way to my nose.
I dream because when this tired body hits the mattress,
It relaxes, then releases and gives up its earthly weight.
My eyes close and I sink to the deep recesses of my mind,
Setting the subconscious free.

The Shed

Independence Day, Late 1970s (Rome, New York)

Whipped-cream clouds smear a powder blue sky,
while Grandpa nurses a carafe of Chianti
and dreams of waltzing down Bourbon Street.
The DeCosty family gathers on the patio,
with Uncle Fee roasting sausage and peppers
and Nana dribbling olive oil over fresh tomatoes,
then adding alternating pinches of basil and parsley.

Inside the backyard bordered by overgrown hedges,
the rambunctious cousins wham Wiffle balls
with a thin banana-colored plastic bat,
evoking the hollers of Grandpa . . .
who watches out for his mint-green aluminum shed,
situated perfectly in left-center field—
serving as our own Green Monster.

And when we get ahold of that little white ball,
it smacks up against the aluminum obstacle,
clashing like two marching band cymbals
in a halftime show.
And with sweat coursing down his neck,
Grandpa barks out his familiar line
under the patio awning:
“Son of a bitch . . . keep that goddamn ball
away from my shed.”
But Nana is always on our side,
and cancels out his power and keeps him in check.
“Fiore, you let those kids play and mind your mouth,”
she says.

Grandpa abandons his no-win cause,
turns up the volume on the Yankee game
and pours himself another glass of red wine.
He watches quietly as the shed stands erect
in the late afternoon sun,
sacrificing its facade for our slew of ground-rule doubles.

The Bridesmaid

The most adorable pregnant bridesmaid ever
Waddles down the church’s center aisle,
Unable to hide her protruding belly.
And with her feet swollen,
Her lower back sore and forehead warm,
She endures the ceremony standing
On the altar beside the joyous couple.
But she nearly passes out while
Posing for pictures in the lakefront park.

Inside the reception hall,
She almost vomits at the sight
Of shrimp cocktail and chicken Florentine.
She orders hot tea and lemon from the top-shelf bar,
And dines on rolls and garden salad.
This single-mom-to-be, though not merry,
Offers a smile when others turn to stare,
And bobs her head to the music
As the guests hit the dance floor.

She nibbles on a sliver of white-frosted wedding cake,
And asks for guidance from her parish priest,
Wise old Father Meyer.
Then the bride overthrows the eager females huddled
Near the dance floor and the bouquet lands
Softly in the expectant mother’s lap.
Her face turns red as everyone looks at her.
So she just grabs the bouquet and throws it back.

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Wisdom from Vincent

This summer I am reading The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. I had discovered the book when I was in graduate film school at American University in Washington, DC in the early 1990s. A woman from the Deep South who was pursuing her MFA in painting suggested I read it. It consists of letters Vincent wrote to his brother Theo, a Dutch art dealer.

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, Penguin Classics.

And although the book was written in the 19th century, Vincent’s words never seem dated. In fact, I could pull inspirational quotes from the book on a nightly basis, and if Vincent were alive today, he might be the host of a motivational podcast.

Through his words, we see that despite his financial, romantic, mental and emotional struggles, Vincent persevered, sacrificing everything to express his creativity and to paint works of art that will endure as long as humans walk the earth.

This passage is dated September 24, 1880. Vincent has made the decision to become a full-time artist and he addresses Theo with this opening line: “Your letter has done me good and I thank you for having written to me in the way you have.”

He describes some art studies he is working on based on prints and etchings that Theo had sent him.

He writes, “These studies are demanding & sometimes the books are extremely tedious, but I think all the same that it’s doing me good to study them.”

The following passage then caught my attention and stirred my heart:

“So you see that I am working away hard, though for the moment it is not yielding particularly gratifying results. But I have every hope that these thorns will bear white blossoms in due course & that these apparently fruitless struggles are nothing but labour pains. First the pain, then the joy.”

Gogh, Vincent van, and Ronald. Leeuw. The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. London: Allen Lane, Penguin Press, 1996. Print.

The words inspired me because as someone who works full-time and writes in my off hours, I rarely see progress; I often get discouraged because I spend hours working on projects that are rejected in the end. But still I press on.

And Vincent’s words are universal—they could be applied to people attempting to achieve a dream, as well as to anyone trying to survive the challenges of every day. I think about artists, actors, singers, students, teachers, entrepreneurs, couples and parents.

And fortunately—for both Vincent and for art lovers around the world—Vincent’s white blossoms did bloom in later years.

Almond Blossom by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

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