Little Bird, Little Bird in a Cinnamon Tree
Three years after her wedding, kneeling on her bed with her face in a pillow, Veronica La Russa realized once and forever that she was not married. She’d had a wedding. But she’d wed with one finger and her signature; that was all. The rest of her was somewhere else. In the armoire mirror her husband was preparing to cover her. When he heaved his thin body up he looked suddenly and horribly like a goat: his back humped ridiculously and his arms and shoulders slouched. Worst of all his eyes were blank and bored, hideously unlike human eyes, staring at nothing. She had not married this.
She didn’t feel him. Literally she did not feel him. He held her wide bony hips for convenience and she cast around the room for something without eyes. The last orange light of a winter Saturday was burning up the window, cut like a Gothic arch by a rich curtain. You could see clear to Mexico from it, and to the ocean, and to the brown wrinkles of East County. She tried looking for Mexico. Ah, no use: she could see his floppy hair and the shadow of his head in the glass. She looked at the armoire mirror by mistake and looked away. He snorted.
“The baby,” she said, “the baby’s asleep.” He didn’t answer.
This was not her husband and she was not his wife. She could not be married to a thing like that, with those goat eyes. A thin blond goat in glasses, with a child’s basketball posters in his office, twenty-nine years old, rich, American, very American, father of a child named Trevor, whose name she could barely pronounce. Rich and skinny in hoodies and a child’s shorts and his name was Kevin, Kevin Friedman, Kevin Friedman of a place in San Diego called Del Cerro where the houses were tremendous and her bare feet froze on the bedspread. There was a Mapuche blanket she’d brought from Rosario, hanging brightly on one wall, and she tried looking at that.
First he twitched, then he slid out. There he was! Off to brush his teeth, his shoulder blades making the eyes of a sad, soft face in this back. She was glad to be empty of him. Puta madre. She would never let him touch her again. Part of him would be glad of the complaint: marriage to a bitch gives you a certain distinction at happy hour. Kevin enjoyed an audience.
That was January. On the last day of August the child was born – the second child, that is, the one called Canelo.
This is how Canelo was born.
Kevin arrived at the hospital at seventy miles an hour, careening past corners and running traffic lights. He made beautiful time. But his triumph went cold and wet at the sight of two people pacing in the maternity ward hall: Veronica’s uncle, Jose Oracio La Russa, and a little Indian girl who must have been his wife. She looked about nineteen.
Before he could even –
Jose Oracio was a bald man with a gold tooth, and the legs and stomach of an overfed horse. His battered luggage was laying in the hallway like it had passed out.
“Kevin!” he shouted, so loud that the fluorescent light flickered.
Kevin, a fast talker, slowed instinctively. He did not like his wife’s uncle. Jose Oracio was a man ruled by Jupiter, sunny and bellowing – a man, Kevin’s parents said, who would have worn two wristwatches if he could. And he was a Conservative. Retired from train conducting in Rosario, he now spent his waking hours on the with Veronica – never in English – and remarrying (“always cholas, you know my uncle”).
The Argentines had flown in that morning. The timing was miraculous. An hour later they heard Veronica scream. The nurses sat Kevin down and he fielded texts from his work friends.
Then the baby came. It was a boy, fat and gorgeous. When he stopped wailing they saw his face in repose, a scowling little Aztec, red as rust. Jose Oracio’s wife held her hands to her lips and looked up, imploringly, at the mother.
“He’s so beautiful.”
Veronica nodded, with cold grace. She could barely move her head for the pain. he girl bent down and kissed the little bread ball of the child’s foot, pinching it daintily. She wanted to bite it. She looked to the Filipina nurse.
“How much does he weigh?” she asked reverently, in Spanish. Poor thing, thought Veronica, closing her eyes.
“Four and a half kilos, my dear,” the nurse intoned. “Cuatro kilos y medio. A very big boy.”
Jose Oracio shouldered in.
“Canelo,” he shouted at the baby. “He’s a little Canelo!”
“We were thinking we were calling him Brian,” she murmured weakly, in English. His parents had ruled out Anthony and Cristiano categorically, and his happy hour crew had recommended a good strong masculine name – given the circumstances.
“Brian Austin,” said Kevin, brightly. It was his turn, he felt. He took the child softly in his long white hands and bounced it a little. The child shrieked.
“Well, I say he’s Canelo,” said Jose Oracio, cradling his niece’s head with one hand and holding his bride’s behind him with the other. “Canelo it means cinnamon, ‘cause he’s so red. He’s going to be all – red – like this,” he ran a huge hand over his face and head.
“His name’s Brian.”
“Well, he’s still a Canelo.”
And eventually even Kevin Friedman started calling him Canelo, although as a final lingering resistance he pronounced it like Costello.
And indeed, the child was red. His hair stayed ocher, which no one in either family could account for. He tanned easily, and over his squashed nose was a patch of brown skin like someone had spilled coffee.
He was short and thick and podgy, right into puberty. He was the opposite of Trevor. Trevor was long and skinny with a squinting little nose, the color of a field mouse – a true Friedman. He played baseball in a rather expensive youth league. He liked girls and told his friends about the girls and they would pretend to scorn the girls, manfully; and because he cried so easily, and because the other kids so wounded him when they made fun of him, he was a bit of a bully too, crowing and hooting around the house, savoring his authority as older brother.
Canelo was exactly the opposite. He had almost no friends. He could not catch a ball, or throw one, or kick one, or pick one up off the ground. He wandered in the public parks along the river after school, or crawled around in the sage brush, looking for horny toads, his hands smarting from holding prickly pears. When he liked a girl he would stare at her like an idiot, and everyone in the world saw.
Walking home together after school they looked like the Fox and the Cat, the Fox in a baseball cap, the stolid little Cat behind with his polo shirt tucked neatly into dirty khakis. The Fox would walk fast and keep some sidewalk between them.
The room they shared, when Veronica finally left, said it all. One half was painted over in baseball posters, basketball posters signed in a bored hand, hip hop posters with bared teeth, trophies, medals, all the usual debris. The other half was completely empty, wall and floor. There was one poster on the wall of Castrogiovanni that Jose Oracio had sent (“you going to look like this one, Canelito, when you bigger”), held with scotch tape. But it wasn’t signed. Occasionally a book would appear on or under the bed, or a wrinkled shirt with permanent yellow stains under the arms. If Trevor had his people over he would insist on marshalling them along the meridian of the room, facing 50 Cent’s gold teeth, so as not to acknowledge the other half. In photos together neither brother smiled.
The abuse was regular and predictable. For wearing his pants too high or brushing mud on a priceless Lakers cap, Canelo got the same thing:
“You dumb ginger. You dumb autistic ginger.”
“He’s not a ginger,” Veronica would say. “And he’s not autistic.” And he wasn’t either, in fact. But the second point made her run over cold, because Canelo wasn’t exactly normal and she had no idea at all what to do with him. He could laugh and cry and he didn’t have tics. But he seemed to have wandered into life without instructions: like he was born premature, only partly formed. He fell asleep in class. He seemed unable to count. His teachers threatened to hold him back year after year, and shook their heads to find buried in his desk the Conquest of New Spain, or a shredded paperback Ovid. A girlfriend might help, but that was out of the question – not because he was too young, which never occurred to Veronica, but because it was so inconceivable that Canelo would talk to a girl.
A girl would straighten him out, she told Jose Oracio. If a girl liked him he’d wash himself better and hold himself straighter and wear the clothes she picked out for him, and not the same filthy khakis and polos every day.
“What about a military school?” he asked.
“Maybe… I don’t know if they have those here. Girls are better, anyway.”
And she knew something about that, because Trevor and Canelo were the fruit of her first romance. She had been twenty, an exchange student, thin and sallow with big front teeth, and Kevin was so American, so dashing, so quick to laugh, so unlike the boys she’d known in Rosario. He was loose where they were tight, debonair where they were jackasses, smooth-cheeked where they were bristly. He knew things, too, and had a wonderful head for gadgets. For his part he loved her horsetail hair, and her little frame and her bad English. He noted with pleasure that she liked beer without making a fuss about it and never got sloppy. He was shocked and then delighted by her love of rare steak. Later he would notice her sampling it raw when she cooked for him, the juice dripping red from her yellow lip, and shuddered.
He proposed before graduation. His parents were formal people who made a point of not asking an orphan for reception contributions; Jose Oracio and his then-wife and Veronica’s best friend from school made up the bridal party, seated at a table with Kevin’s childhood doctor. Four hundred other guests swarmed around them. Jose Oracio puffed his ruffled chest out and rolled his head from side to side, his huge boutonniere drooping and his bow tie tight, staring back at the crowd.
Well. Argentina had been boring for her, mindless and dull. San Diego was softer than Rosario, easier, softer-spoken. The cars were huge and luxurious. The trolley ding-dinged by downtown, which she thought was lovely, and the beaches were pretty even when they were cold. Old Town felt like a theme park ride through a life she would never have to live. And Kevin’s own San Diego was made of jet skis and the House of Blues and the high brick stadium by the water, where she would not let herself fall asleep. All she missed from Argentina was asado and fresh bread: she’d never had many friends.
When they married she put off looking for a job, and didn’t consider it again until her separation. The day she moved out Jose Oracio wired her money, for the lawyer and for rent, and she took an apartment in a place called Tierrasanta. Tierrasanta was close enough to Del Cerro that the kids could stay at their school. It stood on a high bluff over miles of the rough country that seeped up in all the seams of the city. From the window she could see broom bush in yellow fans and cactus and the frowning brown granite surging like the back of something prehistoric. At dinner you could smell the sage inside. All night the coyotes called from mesa to mesa, rasping and yelping; they disappeared when the sun rose, and the hikers in clown-print lycra emerged from their cars.
Kevin remained in Del Cerro.
Veronica now needed work.
Below Tierrasanta, along the river, was a sandstone quarry. It ate up several square miles of the valley, rubbing up against the park and the trails. The quarrymen had skinned the hillsides and the valley floor of their brush and you could see the deep orange rock for miles, and feel the rumble of dynamite if you lived nearby, like an earthquake.
The quarry was looking for an office manager when Veronica moved to Tierrasanta. When Veronica applied they called her back the same afternoon, and she was terrified. She was 34 years old. Her resume had her degree, in business administration, and two internships. She deleted the words “mother of two.”
She drove down on a Thursday, although she could have walked. Inside the office, amid the second-hand Ikea tables and rusting file drawers, she stood without breathing while the blue-jawed, Popeye manager read over her CV. His throat dangled over his collar like a cat toy.
“Honestly,” he said, without conviction, “you’re the best we’ve seen so far.”
She breathed again. She was wearing makeup for the first time in forever. A reassuring email about wire transfers came from Jose Oracio just as she was leaving, to exactly the wrong effect.
“I’ll introduce you to staff,” said the hard little man. “Start Monday at eight?”
So she met the anonymous, cigarette-stinking quarrymen who loitered outside the office, and she met Carmen Hernandez, the secretary, who lived in Santee.
Thank God: the job was easy. It was almost a miracle. The pay was just enough for rent on the little two-room with a nice balcony and a nice kitchen and a carpeted living room: good enough for basic cable and the grocery bill for two adolescents and a grown woman. Jose Oracio kept paying the divorce attorney’s fees, from his railway pension.
She had the boys every other week and largely ignored them. Trevor seethed and exploded and wept, or else tried the imperious look, scowling and commanding (“don’t eat raw meat, Mom, it’s gross and it’s bad for you… And turn down that Spanish music”). She found that not opposing him cost her nothing. He cried if ignored too long, an ugly crying that warped his face like melted plastic. So unless he bullied Canelo excessively he more or less took care of himself, and she could watch the local news or swing her dumbbells around on the carpet and not have to fight.
Canelo, though, was turning feral. His grades were worse, except in English, and every week he spent with Veronica he lived in the canyon, climbing trees and hunkering motionless among the boulders. He was polite and quiet and ugly, vaguely deformed, a little red haired Neanderthal child, and he looked at his feet when she asked him about homework. He was bigger now, too; still short and still podgy, but his shoulders had thickened and his hands, when she inspected his nails, looked more and more like the quarrymen’s. Trevor hung a new poster on his wall: this one of The Game, shirtless, with huge greased muscles. It was like a Gorgon’s head on a Greek temple. Canelo, who was once Stinky, become Chubby as an extra precaution. This when he wasn’t Ginger.
Work was easy. Veronica had a head for abstractions, for files and systems, and in the little office with its white fan and open window she could finish a day’s work in four or five hours, and stare at the orange-peel rock that sloughed off like sand, and the dirty white towers and chutes of the plant. Men yelled, far away. It had the slow, twilight quiet of an empty beach. She could smell the sage and the hot sand and the dirty mud of the river on the wind, and the days passed unrushed, heavy with peace. It was like working on the face of a sundial.
And she had Carmen. Carmen was older than Veronica by ten years or more, and they spoke Spanish and lunched together at precisely noon, on the red rice that Carmen made in heroic batches. Soon Veronica was driving her home. On Thursday mornings she even braved driving into Del Cerro, if she didn’t have the boys to drop off at school, to pick up Carmen from confession at Saint Therese. Once, and once only, she saw Kevin driving down the hill. It was the first she’d seen him outside of a lawyer’s office in almost a year.
The roof was down and he wore a houndstooth print T shirt, with a blazer slung over the passenger seat. They made eye contact as he slowed for the red light and he barely, barely flickered an eyebrow.
There was something horrifying in his face, something ghastly, the long oval jaw shifting as he rolled his gum, the round eyes set far apart and blank as empty sockets. She could feel panic rising like vomit in her stomach. Then the light turned and he was gone and Carmen was at the church door.
“Ah, mija,” she said, bustling heavily into the car, “you look terrible.”
Now Christmas was near. Christmas is galling to San Diegans, who have to wrap palm trees in fir wreaths. But it’s a relief for South Americans in the North, who never quite get used to a winter Christmas anyway. So perhaps that was why the news that the boys would be away for the holiday didn’t trouble Veronica.
Trevor was excited.
“There’s a whole cabin in Tahoe,” he explained, “actually two cabins, and Grandma and Grandpa are going to be in one and Dad and Chris and Chris’ family in the other. And there’s going to be snowboard instructors and skiing and maybe a Kings game in Sac.”
Chris was sort of their godfather: a tall chubby blond man in a backwards Chargers cap, one of the happy hour brotherhood. He sometimes took the boys to movies and told them horrible stories about his college days.
“And when do you want to go?” she asked.
“Well,” he began. This was the tricky part. She could hear him softening his voice the way you soften butter with the back of a fork, and she froze over inside.
“It would be at Christmas. I think we come back January second.”
He could have lied; he could have fibbed a bit with the date. But like his mother Trevor was incapable of lying and she knew it. He would have to court her grace, which filled him, visibly, with self-disgust.
“We could have Christmas together before we left,” he suggested.
Canelo got up from the sofa, slow as a tired dog.
“Are you going skiing?” he asked Trevor.
“We are, Ginger,” he said. He caught the contempt in his mouth and managed to flatten it. “With Dad.”
Veronica said yes without thinking too much about it. She had planned to spend Christmas Eve, at least, with them and Carmen and Beto, Carmen’s husband. But when she compared her mental image of dinner with the boys to dinner without them, she found she liked the second one more.
Although it didn’t help that the next week, the first week of December, she received a large envelope in the mail with a familiar return address, in Del Cerro, two streets from where she’d lived for thirteen years. It was basically walking distance, maybe five or ten kilometers.
Inside was a large card and a lush studio photo of Trevor and Canelo and their grandparents, all in matching green and red jumpers. Trevor had his father’s enormous, closed-lip smile, which curled up around his ears. Canelo looked plump and sullen in the bottom corner, the birthmark on his nose unusually black, like a Cyclops eye.
The card was written in a kind of sidling handwriting with small letters and exact punctuation. It was not Mrs. Friedman’s frills-and-hearts drag-queen hand, and it certainly wasn’t Kevin’s. She sighed and looked it over: Dear Veronica, it began… wish you the very best for this Christmas… hope you can come to some… for the children’s… know how difficult it must be… She had blown up at Canelo’s math teacher for calling her Mrs. Friedman: news moved fast, apparently… We still care… wish you well. An interesting we. ….Joyful Christmas and a productive New Year.
It was signed Bob Friedman in a realtor’s swirl, and next to it, in the same handwriting: and Linda. Well: Bob Friedman was always a decent man. She slipped the whole package into the trash. She paused when she saw the photo; but then she reminded herself that she had been aiming for her purse, so the mistake was honest. She left the room and came back in and fished out the photo, and in defiance of herself sealed it to the refrigerator with a magnet.
She even sent a scan to Jose Oracio by email, and he called her and told her exactly what he thought about Mr. and Mrs. Friedman and what exactly they could do with their letters. She told him to calm down.
He paused. “Do you think Canelo can ski?” he asked.
She thought about it, and they both burst out laughing.
“I can’t even ski,” he said.
“Neither can I.”
“I hope he can wander around outside,” he said, “or he’s going to be miserable. The worst part is, no one is going to teach him. Just you watch.”
Which, it turned out, was exactly what happened.
Veronica spent Christmas Eve with Carmen and her sisters and Beto, a gentle, chubby Chilango who did not look like a landscaper, and who considered himself a man of the world because he was from Mexico City and not from TJ. It thrilled him to greet Veronica with a peck on the cheek, and when the ladies at the table howled and catcalled him he blushed and explained that this was how people in the civilized world saluted each other, and especially at Christmas and you norteñas ought to pay attention to how a real lady, from Buenos Aires, acts in people’s houses.
“From Rosario,” she said. She was wearing Chuck Taylors and no makeup. Her voseo and her fake Versace bag, which she’d bought on a sidewalk, stuck out like the spears in a bull’s back, and she walked and spoke slowly and with great precision, for fear of acting the bull and smashing things.
Of course she smashed nothing. It was a perfect Christmas: they ate tamales and cabrito and Coca Cola mixed with red wine. The house of the Hernandez sisters was bright and fragrant with cinnamon; the TV chattered Christmas specials to itself, like a pleased child. But when she got home she felt like she was in another country. Behind her the Christmas lights were blazing up and down her street. But the midnight sky over Cowles Mountain was a threatening backlit silver, and the coyotes were barking coldly over the hill. They frightened her: that coarse fur, those yellow, uncomprehending eyes. Then she got ahold of herself; she fiddled with her keys and went in. As she closed the door she glanced over her shoulder: no coyote, no green-eyed puma curled in a tree. But the moon had cut its evil way through the clouds and was gleaming at her insolently, malevolently, with a low ugly violence. She slammed the door and slid the bolt.
Her answering machine was blinking red. Jose Oracio and his wife had called. The next message was from Canelo:
“Merry Christmas, Mom. Hope you’re having fun with Miss Hernandez.” A long pause; she could picture him looking around at the ceiling. “See you soon. Love Can – I mean, bye. Everyone says hi. Love Canelo. Bye.”
Between the moon and the messages she couldn’t sleep till morning.
When she woke up that Christmas morning Veronica did not know where she was. It was 11 o’clock. She buttoned up a red flannel shirt against the chill and looked out the window and started to remember everything, where she was and where she worked and how she got there.
She set out to indulge grandly that day because she could and because it was her right. But she didn’t know how, and the weather was too cold for beer and the cheesecake she bought she saved for the kids. She exercised instead and slept to the afternoon news.
Laying on the couch as the sun set she imagined Canelo trying to ski. She imagined Trevor being an excellent, elegant skier, like his father. Trevor, she reflected, was a bright prospect. His grades at school had always been excellent and he was saving money already for his 16th birthday, and the future car he was already telling his friends about. He would cut a figure in Argentina, she thought.
Months passed. It was worse with Canelo that spring and late winter than before. He lied to a science teacher on two occasions about homework that he hadn’t turned in. He wrote an important book report – an exceptional book report, his teacher noted – and left it in his backpack for two weeks past the due date.
“Get him a girlfriend already,” said Jose Oracio. “Make him run laps after school. He needs – something!”
It wouldn’t be easy. Nothing was easy for Canelo. Veronica herself was distracted at work.
“What’s wrong with you, mija?” asked Carmen. But it was too hard to explain. She had been living one long day for months and months. Nothing changed. Her body felt slow, like granite, as if working at the quarry was turning her into a piece of the hill under Tierrasanta, and that she would wake up one morning with thorns and cactus buds growing out of her face like moles.
The divorce settlement made no progress. Canelo made no progress. Her days felt like weeks and at night she slept so hard she could barely get up in the morning.
“You need a man,” said Carmen. “Have you thought about that? You can get remarried. You’re too young and you’re too pretty and you don’t get out.”
But Veronica was already going gray. In not many years she would be 40. In a few after that she would be stone, and birds were perch on her like she wasn’t there at all, and cactus would grow up around her. Men didn’t factor into it at all; didn’t factor into her life. What are dinner and a movie when –
“Well, then you need a vacation. You need something new. You need a change of air.”
Well, maybe. Jose Oracio had said so too, and invited her back to Rosario, although that city was now so foreign and far away that it was ridiculous.
She bought inline skates and started skating in a park. It helped. She decided to try horseback riding and started putting away money, every week, a little at a time. Canelo was interested by the thought of horses, and Trevor despised her skates.
“You look ridiculous,” he said. “If you keep skating around like a little girl, who’s going to” – and he cut himself off, but she knew what he was going to say. Who would, indeed. It must have come up at the other house: her spinsterhood. Her gray hair. Her turning into stone.
“Well,” she said, “I might skate like a little girl but it’s better exercise than you think. I’m getting stronger every day. I’m probably stronger than half your girlfriends.”
“And I might skate like a little girl but I don’t dress like a little girl.” By luck she was wearing a black turtleneck and elegant jeans. “Do you see me in a backwards baseball hat? Or T shirts with cartoon characters?”
He looked up from his soup with a sneer.
One day in the middle of March she proved her point better than she hoped. It was seven in the morning; the school bell rang at 7:25, and they had about five minutes to leave or they would be late. Canelo, once again, had sat too close to Trevor at breakfast and had bumped him with his elbow. Trevor turned and, with an open hand, slapped Canelo in the back of the head.
“Trevor!” she shouted.
Canelo jumped to his feet and stood there, hulking, his great chest pumping up and down beneath his shirt.
“He started it,” said Trevor. “Come on, we’re going to be late.”
And Canelo launched himself, in one tremendous leap, and crashed into his brother. Their skulls knocked together. She leaped into the scuffle and pulled up Canelo by his polo collar, and slapped him.
“Do not” – she began.
But he was looking up at her with dead, blank eyes, inhuman eyes. Ice swept over her. She was sick; she was going to be sick. He stared at her with those animal eyes, unseeing, uncaring, like a goat’s, and he did not say a word. The whole world was spinning and careening. She reached back and slapped him again, much harder, her heart screaming in her chest and all her body surging like a lightning bolt. She hit him again, and again, reaching back and swinging hard. Spit sprayed from his mouth and she caught him by his red hair and swung hard into his ear.
Trevor ran for the kitchen. Veronica was exploding inside. She was happy, desperate and happy. She closed her fist and threw it forward with all her might, crashing it into Canelo’s eye. Then it was over. She stepped back. The boy reeled like a drunk, covering his face in one hand and grasping for the wall with the other.
The veins in her arms were swollen with her cannibal joy. Her eyes gleamed, and she was breathing hard and happily like a sprinter at the finish line. Canelo was stabilizing himself, carefully, one big hand on the kitchen counter. The other hand cradled his face.
He looked up and they made eye contact, and no one spoke. Trevor watched them, his hands shaking.
Finally Veronica spoke.
“Come on,” she said. She was quiet and serious, but not remorseful; frank, unbothered, without shame. “I don’t want to make you late.”
Canelo picked up his backpack without taking a hand from his eye.
“Get in the front,” she told him, gentle and quiet and frank. As she might tell another adult.
Something ghastly was going on – this new compact, these new eyes and new voices. From the backseat Trevor watched them tensely. He could feel the something in the air like a nightmare, something crawling like a fever dream. Something new and not right.
In the front seat, Canelo dropped his hand and looked glumly into the mirror. His eye was already fat and the lid had crumpled. The bruise where his head had knocked against Trevor’s was hidden by red hair.
“I’m going to have a black eye,” he muttered. But his voice was calm.
“That’s all right. This way the kids at school won’t fuck with you.”
They were at the school now. She leaned over and kissed Canelo on the cheek, lingering, and opened the door for him. Trevor, in the back, bolted from the car and tore across the lawn, his open backpack in one hand and his cap in the other. She didn’t see. he was watching Canelo hitch up his pack and set off, small and solid, like a little adult in his tucked-in polo and his black eye. He looked over his shoulder and she waved. He waved back.
She owed him something nice for all that. Maybe steak… she would cook him up a steak tonight, the way he liked it. She could grab some on her way home. Or, she thought, she’d leave some cash and a note in the kitchen that night, and he could do it. He would like that. A little job, for the little man. It suited him.
She smiled, softly, and rounded the corner toward work.
Carlo Massimo is a writer and journalist living in Washington, DC, where he never completed his MFA at American University. His poetry has appeared in Bitter Oleander and Off the Coast. His essays have run in Newsweek, the Wilson Quarterly, and L'Italo-Americano.