John Fante

April 8th will mark the 113th birthday of Mr. John Fante. His delightful landmine of a novel, Ask the Dust (published in 1939) along with the other three novels which chronicled the exploits of his feisty alter-ego, Arturo Bandini, remain gritty testaments to Fante’s hardscrabble genius. My poem “John Fante” from my collection, Arclight, celebrating the man behind the dust and dreams.

Inferiority might have been your first memory.

Though you were born on American soil,

Denver, CO, April 8th, 1909,

the chinked chains of immigration

had you by the throat and bowels, pinched your nerves

as you butted your head against the scabby base of a totem pole.

You, the little wop, the fenced-in dago, trying to dig his way

to China, or the moon, or to any form of greatness

that would eclipse your undermining complexes.

And so, out of shame and need, out of fevered desire,

you created Bandini, or he you.

Arturo Bandini, rising star and literary godsend

of John Fante’s complicated inner world,

soon to be exported and appraised and adored

by thousands, maybe more.

Arturo Bandini would draw from your history

and chagrin—your philandering, boozing, gambling father,

your mother, having to beg credit to keep the family fed,

your fear and loathing of Jesus,

and love-hate relations with the saints,

all of it would fuel Bandini’s quest

to transcend your blues,

your gnawing sense of lesser-than.

You would become the Joe Dimaggio of the literary world,

the gold-plated pride and joy of your people,

or at least go down swinging.

Bandini, fire in his belly, lean days of determination,

a starved mongrel digesting the pit and seeds

and citrus rinds and sun-tendered leaves

of palm trees in 1930s L.A., an angry, confused, passionate

young man, stalking fury and sound, full of himself

and words that he prayed to God would not let him down.

He, John Fante, the great Arturo Bandini, gave us pages,

a score of scorched pages, not enough according to him

(he would go on to become a Hollywood screenwriter

and malign himself as the worst kind of traitor to his soul and calling)

but he left behind the Bandini Quartet, four novels

with his grit-infused masterpiece, Ask the Dust, forming its apex.

Some angry young men mellow with age,

Fante, it seems, raged until the end.

His legs, and sight, were claimed by diabetes,

and Fante, as a blind amputee, bed-ridden, took one last dive

and salutary fling into the inspired world of Bandini,

dictating his final novel, Dreams from Bunker Hill, to his wife, Joyce.

Bukowski, who had accidentally stumbled upon Fante’s work,

considered him a god.

The two would become friends, and Bukowki would do his part

to resurrect Fante for a new generation. 

It seems, after all, that Bandini, upon a cross,

grinning, scowling, dreaming of words

and how to arrange them according to gospel,

had amounted to a scarring glint

upon so much favored dust.   

About John Biscello

Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, spoken word performer, and playwright, John Biscello now lives in Taos, New Mexico. He is the author of three novels: Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, and Nocturne Variations, and a collection of stories, Freeze Tag. His fiction and poetry has appeared in: Art Times, nthposition, The Wanderlust Review, Ophelia Street, Caper, Polyphony, Dilate, Militant Roger, Chokecherries, Farmhouse, BENT, The 555 Collective, Instigator, Brass Sopaipilla, The Iconoclast, Adobe Walls, Kansas City Voices, and the Tishman Review. His blog--Notes of an Urban Stray--can be read at johnbiscello.blogspot.com. Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale was named Underground Book Reviews 2014 Book of the Year.
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