Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Dante Di Stefano





Today Is the Day Imugi Turns to Dragon

            for the seventeen victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
            and for seventeen-year-old Chloe Kim, 2018 Olympic Gold Medalist in Snowboarding

            “Today is the day imugi turns to dragon.”
                        —text message from Jong Jin Kim to his daughter, Chloe Kim,
                            on the morning of her gold medal win

This is how seventeen should be beheld:
frozen midflight above the halfpipe, angelic,
with infinite steeze, pretzeling vista
and potential, tweaking the very air

of possibility become diamond
and drawn vermillion against the slope
of lung and heartbeat, ascending gale-like,
a body burst into a golden whorl.

It should not shriek down the school corridors
accompanied by the fire alarm’s shrill.
It should not bleed out, should not know the sound
of ricochet or kill shot. America,

when will you begin to arm your children
with wings to shear the brim of paradise,
instead of letting so many chamber
their rage from prairie to peninsula?

See how a young woman weaves a story
from raw air. See how she writhes the current
of the winter wind. See her brandishing
a radiance brocaded from snowflake

and her parents’ sacrifice. See her glide
through the atmosphere, a utopia
of oxygen combusting in the freeze;
See her carve out a new promise from board

and boot and hill: that this country might seize
a hem of sky and twist itself into
a physique of boundless joy and freedom,
a dragon breathing fire’s consolations.


Interrogative Solo

            after Amiri Baraka & Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Who wants the world the way it is?
Who prophesizes in semaphore?
What’s a bright moment to a blind man?
Do you leash your lions?
Why is America always cudgeling up
some newfangled massacre?
Can you comfortably fit acknowledgement
into prayer?
How many instruments can you play simultaneously?
What provokes, too far, the residuary philosophizing
of the drumbeat?
What about the black keys on the piano?
What about the white?
How do you spell exclusion in the language
of certain American fauna?
Whose choked-out silhouette is chalked on the asphalt?
Why not invoke a popular solicitude?
Do you know what the world looks like from the inside
of a teardrop tattoo?
Why not squall heartache?
Where does the wind rob its whistle from?
When will what strident ghost rise
from the dead and dance?
Why a bullet for every empty chamber and clip?
What’s that got to do with regardless?
Why a noose for every knot?
Why the logic of an unmarked grave
to explain a national ethos?
What poem undoes a drone strike?
What art unsurveils us?
Why not close the embassy in your heart?
Who’ll reverse the recoil of certain invocations?
Who’ll curse supposedly?
Who refuses not to thrive?
Who builds a better God inside her own chest?
Who rejects the rationales and facts and powers
of any president?
Who’s unafraid not to wait for a nation to save us?
Who revises the vernacular into poetry?
Who goddamns all these indictments?
Why are we Americans?


What the Red in a Cy Twombly Painting Remarked to You in Passing

You might crayon the world all kinds of crazy
with regret and remorse and the whatnot
of nostalgia run roughshod and kilned into

a bricolage of junked and fading knickknacks
you’ve endowed with the significance
of tiny intricately bespoke household gods.

Remember, you are your own intransigence,
and wrath-underwritten epic, swarmed
splaywise against your own self-image.

Just unspool. Just waggle. Just swag across
the depths of a flat canvas. Just let yourself
unravel in a curlicue, a somersault, a handspring,

a cartwheel toward the edge of the What
you think you know about your own dear life.
Be willing to be beginning to reject

the plot diagram you’ve drawn in ink
for your chosen narrative, your saving lie,
your squiggle upon a supposed immortality;

skitter in the unending denouement of this Now
you doodle in and render heroic
with a fleeting gesture, a handshake, a hug,

a hail, a farewell, a salute, a smile that waves
upon the waves and whispers a signal,
a sigil, a secret—this moment is enough, enough.


Photograph of Dante Di Stefano by Christina Di Stefano.

Dante Di Stefano is the author of Ill Angels and Love Is a Stone Endlessly in Flight. His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in American Life in Poetry, Best American Poetry 2018, Poem-a-Day, Prairie Schooner, The Sewanee Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, and elsewhere. Along with María Isabel Álvarez, he co-edited the anthology Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump’s America. He holds a PhD in English Literature from Binghamton University and is the poetry editor for the DIALOGIST. More from this author →