“Birds of Prey” and “San Pedro, Los Angeles County”

Poetry by Angela Gaito-Lagnese

Birds of Prey

for Dominick

I was nine. My parents came home hollow from the hospital.

My mother sobbed in wild animal cries, violent splotches

of purple spread from under her skin, her chest

her cheekbones tainted; my father silent

slumped in his easy chair, his neck gray-yellow

half of his face buried in clenched raw knuckles.

His eyes wide and white, he was unable to see me

and in that moment, I knew in my terror

my older brother was dead.

In our living room, atop an old television console

sat a junk-store hunk of metal art: silver-plated vultures

wings spread for battle, faced off at the edge of long thin rods

balanced with magnets against a thick knotted rock.

My father stared through me to the blank screen, raised his eyes to the ugly sculpture above.

The silver-plated raptors trembled, constricted under my father’s gaze

one bird shivered, then swayed, gave one dreadful bounce, the other bird recoiled

one vulture up, the other down, until they rose in gradual slopes – clumsy half-turns

the room's dimness disturbed by tiny shocks of blue spark.

The birds spun in full gyrations, those raptors bowing in at each other

the vein in my father’s temple pulsed, once, twice, a third time

the rods beneath the raptors’ claws whipped into a frenzied carousel

woven into helixes, my father’s face grimaced, crimson

the birds pitching fits in uncontrollable coils.

My mother gasped from under the dining room archway

my father turned toward her, shattered, the spell broken

the birds collapsed, clattered to the carpet.

I scuttled to the room’s far edge

crouched between couch and corner.

One more remnant from that winter

packed away, rarely mentioned.

San Pedro, Los Angeles County

My childhood backyard in the East was eroded by dirt and vine.

Daffodils grew untended each spring, a stubborn swath of yellow spikes

choked in squalls of ivy, the yard edged by wild blackberry, honeysuckle, roses;

slabs of teakwood – my dead brother’s tree house – abandoned in one dark corner.

After he died, they packed away his photographs    artwork    archery set

cloaked the mirrors in black linen    painted his bedroom walls claustrophobic pink.

They rarely spoke his name, the pain, you know            and yet his absence remained thick

winter dust trapped in worn linoleum     the troubled dreams of chronic fever

the weight of unclaimed space.

Eventually, I ran          as far as I could get.

His echo follows, Pittsburgh to Pedro

where I land in my own small garden

pliable sand wide scorched sky.

At dusk, fog creeps up 8th street like ghosts from the Pacific

weaves through sprawls of white moonflowers

dulls the bitter scent of absinthe     softens the gray-green mounds

along my walkway      the leaves turned into velvety lace.

The mist swirls through my poppies until they are a blur of scarlet stars

and all that exists is this one moment              everything hushed and radiant.

About the Author

Angela Gaito-Lagnese

Angela Gaito-Lagnese has an M.F.A. in fiction and an Ed.D. in language, literacy, and culture from the University of Pittsburgh. Her poems have appeared in The Pittsburgh City Paper's Chapter & Verse, The Main Street Rag, and Nasty Women and Bad Hombres: A Poetry Anthology. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA and teaches English at the Community College of Allegheny County.