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Vines and Branches

By Frank Modica

I The Foreman

I watch the landlord

beat another tenant farmer

who’s fallen behind paying his rent.

I am afraid to speak up.

I need to keep this thankless job,

to feed my baby boy and wife.

An agent in a tailored suit

comes around that evening,

promises me streets paved with gold.

“You can shake off the blood of Sicily

after you sign this contract.

Your American grandchildren

and great grandchildren

will remember your name

long after you’re gone.”

He smiles through his mustache

as he hands me a fancy pen.

I sign.

II The Tenant Farmer

I owe the landlord two months rent;

where can I go if I am evicted? There is no

place in Sicily for me to earn my bread.

One evening a man in a fancy suit

knocks at my door, holds up a paper,

hands me a golden pen.

“Sign here, Calogero, you will have riches, fame.

In America, you will live like a king.”

My soul, my life, the shirt on my back,

these I already have.

I will find an honest way

to pay for my passage.

If you come to me in L’america

and I am still a poor man,

I, Calogero, will spit in your face again.

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