Vero Eretico


Luke Cusumano/The Observer

Academy of American Poets Prize Award Co-Winner

Profilo Continuo del Duce, Renato Bertelli, 1933

Renato gives birth to Benito a second time, a thousand times over.
From every angle, in every light, he carves his face in terracotta
and preserves it forever in bronze.

Il Duce is more machine than man, his helm rotates on an axle of glory.
His plated head shines as if it were his birthright,
his manifesto made flesh made clay made ore.

Under his reign, my grandmother is raped in her own
home. She gives birth to a child whose first words are
Mussolini ha sempre ragione.

Mussolini is always right.

My grandfather is tied to a tree by Blackshirts,
castor oil poured down his throat to make him quiet.
Me ne frego, they all say—I don’t give a damn.

My nonno shuts up again, this time in an American museum
on his ninety-first birthday. Then, La tua nonna avrebbe piangere
your grandmother would cry.

Ahead! The head encased in glass, shielded from the Italian-
American’s oily touch. If he can see every corner of his empire,
why can’t he look me in the eye?


Vero Eretico: in some translations, “sincere misbeliever”—literally “true heretic.” Mussolini sometimes used this pseudonym as a writer. He worked as a journalist for publications such as Avanti! (“Ahead!”)

Renato Bertelli’s Profilo Continuo del Duce is known as “Continuous Profile of Mussolini” in English. It is a bronzed terracotta sculpture depicting the Italian dictator’s profile in 360°. It was on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City as a part of the Oct. 2010-Jan. 2011 collection. It was created in 1933, when Mussolini himself approved the design and used it in propaganda.