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Dante Di Stefano

Dante Di Stefano received a PhD in English from Binghamton University. He is the author of Ill Angels (Etruscan Press, 2019) and Love Is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016).

Di Stefano’s poem, “Prompts (for High School Teachers Who Write Poetry),” was selected by Presidential Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco for the 2019 On Teaching Poem Prize, which is given to honor the best unpublished poem written about K–12 teaching and/or teachers. In 2020, his poem “My Eighteen-Month-Old Daughter Talks to the Rain as the Amazon Burns” placed third in the inaugural Treehouse Climate Action Poem Prize, which was judged by Julia Alvarez and Bill McKibben.

A poetry editor for DIALOGIST, Di Stefano lives in Endwell, New York.

By This Poet

2

Prompts (for High School Teachers Who Write Poetry)

Write about walking into the building
as a new teacher. Write yourself hopeful.
Write a row of empty desks. Write the face
of a student you’ve almost forgotten;
he’s worn a Derek Jeter jersey all year.
Do not conjecture about the adults
he goes home to, or the place he calls home. 
Write about how he came to you for help
each October morning his sophomore year.
Write about teaching Othello to him;
write Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle, 
rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven
Write about reading his obituary
five years after he graduated. Write
a poem containing the words “common”
“core,” “differentiate,” and “overdose.”
Write the names of the ones you will never
forget: “Jenna,” “Tiberious,” “Heaven,”
“Megan,” “Tanya,” “Kingsley” “Ashley,” “David.”
Write Mari with “Nobody’s Baby” tattooed
in cursive on her neck, spitting sixteen bars
in the backrow, as little white Mike beatboxed
“Candy Shop” and the whole class exploded.
Write about Zuly and Nely, sisters
from Guatemala, upon whom a thousand
strange new English words rained down on like hail
each period, and who wrote the story
of their long journey on la bestia
through Mexico, for you, in handwriting
made heavy by the aquís and ayers
ached in their knuckles, hidden by their smiles.
Write an ode to loose-leaf. Write elegies
on the nub nose of a pink eraser.
Carve your devotion from a no. 2
pencil. Write the uncounted hours you spent
fretting about the ones who cursed you out
for keeping order, who slammed classroom doors,
who screamed “you are not my father,” whose pain
unraveled and broke you, whose pain you knew.
Write how all this added up to a life.  
 

My Eighteen-Month-Old Daughter Talks to the Rain as the Amazon Burns

Lark of my house,
keep laughing.
Miguel Hernández

this little lark says hi
to the rain—she calls
river as she slaps
the air with both wings—
she doesn’t know pine
from ash or cedar
from linden—she greets
drizzle & downpour
alike—she doesn’t
know iceberg from melt—
can’t say sea level
rise—glacial retreat—
doesn’t know wildfire—
greenhouse gas—carbon
tax or emission—
does not legislate
a fear she can’t yet
feel—only knows cats
& birds & small dogs
& the sway of some
tall trees make her squeal
with delight—it shakes
her tiny body—
this thrill of the live
electric sudden—
the taste of wild blue-
berries on her tongue—
the ache of thorn-prick
from blackberry bush—
oh dear girl—look here—
there’s so much to save—
moments—lady bugs—
laughter—trillium—
blue jays—arias—
horizon’s pink hue—
we gather lifetimes
on one small petal—
the river’s our friend—
the world: an atom—
daughter: another
name for: hope—rain—change
begins when you hail
the sky sun & wind
the verdure inside
your heart’s four chambers
even garter snakes
and unnamed insects
in the underbrush
as you would a love
that rivers: hi—hi