Joseph Fasano on Poets Cafe

The following interview of Joseph Fasano by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).

Interview 2015


Interview 2017


[download audio]

Biographical Information—Joseph Fasano

Joseph Fasano is the author of three books: Vincent (2015), a book-length poem based on the 2008 killing of Tim McLean; Fugue for Other Hands (2013), winner of the Cider Press Review Book Award and Poets’ Prize nominee; and Inheritance (2014), nominee for the James Laughlin Award. A winner of the Rattle Poetry Prize, he has been a finalist for the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize and the Times Literary Supplement Poetry Competition, as well as a nominee for a Pulitzer Prize. He teaches at Manhattanville College and Columbia University. For more information, please visit



with a photograph by Horst Faas

“We can all be saved
By a secret blooming”
– James Dickey

If to carry a thing is to feel, in your own knees,
your slenderness, the lightness of the scrim
blowing back against your face between
what you are and what you are not
yet, the way a friend I loved once
cut his own long hair in the dark,
swiftly, letting it fall on his wrists
which were also cut, in New York,
that April, then I think I may understand
the slightest portion of what this man
is going through, in 1964 and in the body
Horst Faas has sealed him into, in gelatin
and black and white, while no rain falls.
Or no. When my friend knelt down
in his small apartment just north
of the Tappan Zee Bridge, having walked
all morning through flock after flock
of vireo and crow, their bodies swerving
around his body for the last time, I do not think
he had on his mind the oatmeal boiling
on his rusted stove, its odors, nor
the raven-haired mourners of the Old
Testament, the strict country of lamentation
where we may wander toward each other at last.
Nor the half-drunk paramedic
who would light up her Parliament
when she found him, fetal, in ruins.
I do not suspect he had on his mind
the weather, the dogwood blossoms, or, for that
matter, this single photograph I’ve found
this morning, folded, with tremendous
care, into the velvet of a cello case
beneath my friend’s linens, while the dogwoods
blossom. All spring I’ve stood before my own
bewildered students trying to say the word
history, and now, in a rice paddy somewhere
northeast of Saigon, it has all begun
to matter, or to not matter, again, for good.
Because my friend left no note
when it happened. Because this other
man, thirty perhaps, is standing before
a huge juggernaut of South Vietnamese regulars
and holding, on his forearms, the downward-
facing body of his son, or his
daughter, and saying, with his pursed lips,
nothing. Late April in New York, the dogwoods
are in blossom, and all morning
I’ve tried to tell the story that the young
corporal’s rifle keeps destroying over
and over, the story that the glint of light
on the barrel keeps swearing will not
be coming back, not to this field, not
ever. All morning I’ve driven north
on the Taconic State Parkway, stopping
only once to pull the body of a doe
deeper into hawkweed, and certainly
with no ceremony, because it is spring,
because a man has lost his history
in a photograph by Horst Faas folded
in my left breast pocket and he is
desperate—not for answers, of course, but for
anything, a witness, a single neighbor willing to see
what he’s had to carry a half mile
now, from his ramshackle hut
through the brittle light of a century of silence,
and iron, and briar. And because Faas, in his picture,
has told us all this is true. And is not true.
And is only as holy as the way
a child’s body—a son, or a daughter—
hangs on the forearms of its father,
facing the earth again. What could
he whisper—alone, the father—having carried
his child this far, having heard,
like the couple in the stateroom
of the flooding liner, the North Atlantic
pouring in around them where they’ve woken,
all the words the darkness has for dignity, for
honor, having been able to keep nothing
in his mind but the astonishing fact
of his own son’s, or daughter’s, heaviness,
because he has forgotten, for a moment,
the name of his own child. Whom he still
had lessons to teach. Who is not
us. Who is. Listen: In his lost, great painting
of the martyrdom of Peter, Caravaggio
has turned the bare ass of the executioner
toward our faces, deliberately and with unfaltering
gusto, his thick cheeks filthy, the saint
lifting his grizzled head to stare at the nail
he has only just now realized is driven
into the left palm of him, and,
he is reasoning, also the right,
if only he would turn to face it
and make it real. For which whimsy
Caravaggio was almost hanged.
For which license he was saved
by the one or two patrons who
understood. And by which we understand
that the victim and the executioner
are one, that the clothes stripped
and partially napalmed from the body
of this child three hundred and sixty-three years
later, and showing us a piece of him
he would have only just learned
to be ashamed of, means nothing, nothing
at all. Except everything. Except only compassion
is in our hands. When my friend knelt down
on the linoleum tile of his rent-controlled
apartment, that April, he was not thinking
of the light, of the darknesses, of the young
father standing with his shirt pulled
slightly open by the lifeless hand
of his childhood, in cotton;
he was not thinking even of
the weightlessness of his own hair, that cargo
he’d let fall on the opening blossoms of his own
thin forearms, in last light, in April,
so that he could imagine the beauty
he was destroying was permanent, and
holy, and certainly not his own; or that
only the story is in our hands. If
to carry a body is to stare down into the clarity
of your own fathoms and find the resources
that are not there, the histories
that will almost happen, then let it be
April, now, the dogwoods in bloom, the dark
secret blossoming we cannot all be salvaged by.
As though a body, when you lift it, can be lifted.
As though abundance will reside in the powerless.
I am talking to you now, whoever you were—
I am talking to you in the frail light
of your linoleum tile where a man
can pick up the body’s story and almost
begin over, almost convince himself it is perfect.
Yes, I want to tell you, winter is a battle
in which the father kneels, shattered,
and the father is drowned in the body
at last, and the child is the grave of the
father, and of his kind, and the river
takes them all unceasingly in its arms.
But every story is made with praise.
Every story is finished in forgiveness.
You tell it: When Caravaggio turned back
toward the window of his studio,
late winter, 1601, he must have seen
everything, then, in one underwhelming
moment—the ages, the humiliation
laid out before him—he must have heard
the street venders and the courtiers chortling
something awful, and undone, before
he turned back to his sherry and his caviar
and the laughter of the bread-maker’s
daughter, that street-wise angel waiting
in the wildness of his silk and four-
post altar, waiting, again, to wet
her lips and whisper into his ear,
over, and over, and over, the same unfinished
story, the body’s story, which, one last
moment, the painter might have attempted, in that
decadence, to whisper, might have attempted,
in bewilderment, to echo. And have slept,
again. And forgiven it all. And been ashamed.