Carpe Noctem Interview with Michelle Reale: Birds of Sicily


Very grateful to poet extraordinaire Nicole Rollender for proving a platform on her blog for me to talk about my collection Birds of Sicily!

BIRDS OF SICILY

 

 

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Still Opposing Refugees the Right to Safety and Peace? Better Check Yourself…


…because up close and personal, THIS is the reality, this is the face, (one of many) of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.   Still oppose refugees right to cross borders ?  If you can ,. you are cold , hard and shiny plastic ,for sure. And I hope your society, and your country never burns under your feet.  What a way to come into the world, right?  This infant boy and his twin brother , along with their mother braved a 3o hour, arduous journey, some of it in the pitch black of night, for a safe shore.  Fifteen rubber boats (unbelievably) and one made of wood were rescued in the Mediterranean.  Thousands were rescued.

Compassion is in play here, thankfully, but the naysayers, the bigots and the ill-informed cannot be far behind. The harsh truth is that the 30 hour  journey, treacherous as it was, will not be the end of a life full of instability, fear, and an intense longing for a land and a home that, for all intents and purposes no longer exists.  The refugee escapes one set of unbearable circumstances for another.  But , at the very least, the ground is no longer burning under their feet.

The face of this tiny infant , a mere 5 days old, and others like him will haunt me.

SYRIAN BABY.jpg

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The Blogger Has a Website…Finally!


We write to be read and to connect…

…So, I went ahead and made myself a website!

All aspects of my writing are presented at:

www.michellemessinareale.com

In addition to this blog, I hope that you will also keep up with me there, too!

 

Bird on finger

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Times of Sicily podcast review of Birds of Sicily: poems.


Mark Spano had reviewed my collection Birds of Sicily in podcast format for the Times of Sicily.  I am grateful for his sensitive reading and his deep  understanding of these poems that seek to explicate the immigrant experience.

BIG BIRD

 

 

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Keep the Focus on Refugees, Please.


 

People are priorities.

#refugeesmatter

 

Harumbe and refugees

Cristina Mazzoni and Michelle Reale: Birds of Sicily in Art and Spoken Word


With heartfelt thanks to my friend and amazing artist Cristina Mazzoni (MCM arts), here are her wonderful watercolors of a variety of birds found in Sicily as the backdrop for my reading of Birds of Sicily, the title poem from my collection of the same name.

I love when collaboration takes place like this so effortlessly.  Every single day I look forward to Cristina’s amazing artwork, often representations of the natural world, paired with exquisite poetry from all of the poetic giants the world over. When she approached me about the idea for this little “movie” I felt so honored—she is such a huge talent and I am humbled.  Her birds are so real in their rendering, so soulful and free.

My collection of poems, Birds of Sicily uses the metaphor of migratory and birds of flight to tell, in poems, the story of a man, my grandfather who fled Sicily and feared vendetta for his entire life.

If I juxtapose this with the refugees of today, I can see even in flight one is not free.  It is hard to shake the chains of hatred, resentment and displacement, often what they find in most of the places in which they land.

Birds , to a certain extent can be free, because they have wings that can lift, propel and keep them in flight.  But they are also caged, hunted and susceptible to many things that can harm them when they are out of their habitat.

In that way, humans — refugees, are like birds, too. Under great duress they flee for better , higher ground, but can never really know, ahead of time, what they will find

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Lego Migrants: A chance to teach compassion in the wake of a humanitarian crisis.


“Children are like wet cement whatever falls on them makes an impression.”
  — Haim Ginott, Child psychologist

LEGO MIGRANTS

“Lego Migrants” Alberto Tanasi

As surprising as it sounds, I have never given any deep thought to how children living in Sicily (and of course, other places) are attempting to grasp the migrant/refugee crisis, a crises of such epic proportions that  parents, teachers and others must surely be in frequent conversation on the topic.    Of course they must be influenced by the many vivid images on  television news and print media.   In fact, a child in Sicily is likely to see and encounter the very people who are the ground zero victims of the humanitarian crisis.    What are these children  to make of it?  How do they process what they see and what they hear?  And because of the natural law of growing up, they will not be small forever.   How we talk to them of and about the crisis matters. It matters what they hear.  A perfect time to ground them in compassion and caring. To bring them out of themselves enough to be aware of the things going on around them.  Too young?  They already “know”.  And what they “know” will need to be nuanced and mediated.

Children-watching-televis-006

On a popular Italian-American site the other day, readers were responding to an article about how some refugees had been assigned a chef to cook for them.  Since I have encountered many refugees in Sicily, I can attest to the fact that the food they are given is not only unpalatable to them, but is given in small amounts. Pasta is the staple dish and their bodies are not used to the starch , nor the lack of calories.   Food is incredibly important to our well-being, and the food of where we come from can often be the only comfort we have if we need to travel far from home—if in fact, we are fortunate enough to be able to shop and cook for ourselves.  The comments on the site lacked an understanding and compassion of the migrants and refugees so much so that the sentiments expressed bordered on fascism.  Cruel and horrific.  “If they don’t like the food, why don’t they just swim back to where they came from!”  Most all others cruelly  missed the point entirely: “What?! They don’t like Italian food? It’s the best cuisine in the world!”  

These thoughts predominate a lot of talk about migrants and refugees.  This generation is listening. How we mediate and explain,with intelligence and compassion,  will influence how this crisis of epic proportions will be handled in the future, by the very children who are now watching in unfold in ways both dramatic and chaotic.

My friend Davide’s son, quite poignantly, filled a little Lego boat with Lego migrants.  One wonders what he was thinking when he made it.  But, he did in fact make it.  He’s just a  little boy in Sicily.  With the crisis unfolding all around him.

 

 

Birds of Sicily: poems that explicate the immigration experience


I guai della pigniata sabe sol’ o cucchiao

(The troubles deep in the pot are known only by the spoon—Sicilian proverb)

 

BIRDS OF SICILY

 

This collection explicates the cycle of immigration of a man who fled Sicily and feared vendetta for his entire life.  The rough terrain of Sicily, both literally and figuratively figures prominently. The vagaries of displacement, adjustment, abandonment and the politics of place , juxtaposed with the migratory patterns of birds can be found in these poems.   It is a timeless issue in a world that is ever on the move.

Sample:

Trinacria

 Bird the island with the naked eye and you come upon the rare, the accidental, the vulnerable, the extirpated.  The island didn’t give them anything then.  Beaks, sharp as the points of knives, strike before being struck.  It is our way, they might say. By mountain, by sea.

 O mare, O mare!

 Nature has a passion for erasure, subjugation, for keeping the powerful unbowed.  For survival, while feeding yourself with one hand, you deny your mother’s love, look askance at your father’s sad smile, with a fierce, but quiet disdain.   There now, do not worry.  Walk the sun baked estate with impunity.

Thank you for your support!

 

 

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The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others

Albert Schweitzer

If one pays close attention, the traveller or more specifically the tourist in Sicily will see “need” at every turn.  The evidence of poverty , homelessness  and the displacement of refugees to those enjoying a  vacation  is an “inconvenient truth” , with most people choosing , whether consciously or subconsciously , to ignore what, in reality, cannot and should not be denied.

homeless in Sicily

I am not much of a tourist. In fact, I never have been. The place where I love to dwell, literally and figuratively, is in everyday life.   I have a friend that used to joke that I was a true member of the often-castigated “hoi polloi”. I am proud of that. In general, I am not interested in seeing whatever is in a guidebook and I am quite certain that no matter where I have found myself in the world, I have missed things that are deemed by the venerable guide books (that people clutch like the Bible) a “must see.” Honestly, I have never really cared about such things.

For the past 4 years I have been lucky enough to lead my students to Sicily each March, which is the travel component of my class, “This Sea is Not My Home: Immigration, Migration and Social Justice in the Sicilian Context.” As you can glean from the title, what started out as class that on the vagaries of immigration, migration and refugees, has slowly morphed into examining the realities of not only migration as a worldwide movement and phenomenon, but, perhaps more importantly, the lives’ of refugees themselves. The people, not just the geopolitical situation.  

PEOPLE

I have staunchly defended (and still do) the rights of people to migrate from one place to another, most particularly for reasons  that people seek asylum. I could also reason the cruel irony of how protected merchandise is and how easy it is to cross borders ($$$$$) though masses of people are seen as a scourge. I have had to listen to Sicilians and Sicilian-Americans, often with fingers in my face trying to tell me how bad the situation is for Sicilians in their own country. I sympathized—how could I not— but my particular focus was on refugees into the country, not those suffering from a decimated economy resulting in an  unemployment rate so high , the first time I was told what it was, I though I had misheard. But, in fact, I would have to be cold, hard, shiny plastic not to care. ,

I care

Last week my students and I helped out at a Catholic Relief Agency one evening. The students were tasked to shop during the day for the food in the open market. On the menu was fruit salad, green salad and chicken stew. We washed and chopped and the wonderful men and women at the agency did the actual cooking. But my students and I portioned the food out. And we served. We served a hungry, possibly homeless (at least some of them) and grateful bunch of people. Among a group of perhaps 45 there was a family with two young boys. There were approximately 4 refugees that I could easily identify. The others were Sicilian.

To think of them now ties my heart up in knots.   I have listened to, read and discussed the situation in Sicily with people I deeply trust there: friends, advocates, cultural mediators and educators, all on the front lines , involved and passionate.   I have come to the conclusion that at least one of the reasons that  many are opposed to the  influx and presence of the refugees is that many  themselves are also suffering—and they perceive (not accurately) that their jobs, or at least the possibility of employment will be taken from them.   How can you possibly convince those with that mindset otherwise? It is hard to be compassionate in the face of your own fear and suffering.

What I know is that in that room when the bell was struck for the Our Father before the eating of the meal, everyone in the room stood and there was utter silence. There was respect, too, that everyone in the room had for one another: young, old, black, white, immigrant and refugee.  In that moment, everyone was connected somehow, and our differences did not matter.

hunger-hurts

With each plate I set before someone who was waiting to eat,  I said “buon appetito”. Every single person responded, warmly, with a smile and a “grazie.” This is not to fetishize those in need—far from it, but I see poverty of every kind as a sort of equalizer—it reduces us to the essence of our humanity—and it elevates us too, when we lend a hand, in any way, to help alleviate it.

When we passed out the fruit cups, the two young boys very carefully enunciated “thank you” to me in English.   I replied in kind. The mother looked up at me and asked, in a bit of an embarrassed way, if I could maybe find a cup of fruit with more oranges.   “The boys really love oranges,” she said

Oranges

The reality of having to bring your children to a social service agency in order to feed them, hit me in a very vulnerable place. While intellectually, I know this a sad, but common occurrence, I’d never faced it so up close.  It felt personal  Most people who will read this blog post will be very far from such an experience.  I looked at those kids and I felt my face flush.  Time seemed to stop for just a moment.

I will continue to seek and narrate the voices of refugees in Sicily—I am committed to this work. Sicily is , a complicated but wonderful place, and  my eyes are now more open to the need everywhere. It is not like taking sides: refugees need very particular help, being such a vulnerable and at risk population. The homeless , poverty stricken , the addicted, the forgotten,  need help and compassion, too. Compassion for everyone can go a long way.

At the end of the evening, one man came up to my students and jovially observed , “You can’t understand me and I can’t understand you, but yet, here we are together!”

After all, hunger in the belly hurts us all in exactly the same way.

 

Silhouette of stick people on hillside and sunset in background

Hunger in the Belly Feels the Same to Us All: Feeding the Needy in Sicily

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A Day of Service: start small, do something


 

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the United States.   It is a day of “service” to those in need, to working for social justice, to further the cause.   My interest and my (very) humble work (I do a mere fraction of what others are doing for refugees) is based in my personal philosophy of service, inspired and sustained in me by MLK.

Today, do something in service of the plight of the poor, the homeless, the disencranchised. Do this from where ever you are and in any way that you can.

Small steps, small gestures mean so much.  And they add up.

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