Maria Terrone’s second book of poetry, A Secret Room in Fall, won the 2005 McGovern Prize from Ashland Poetry Press and was published in December 2006. Her first book, The Bodies We Were Loaned, appeared from The Word Works in 2002. She is also the author of a chapbook, American Gothic, Take 2 (Finishing Line Press, 2009). Terrone’s work, which has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, has appeared in such magazines as Poetry, The Hudson Review, Crab Orchard Review, Margie, Rhino, Rattapallax, Notre Dame Review, Atlanta Review and Poetry International. She is the recipient of the Willow Review Award for Poetry, the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize from Passages North, and the Allen Tate Memorial Award from Wind. In 2007, she received an Individual Artist Initiative Award from the Queens Council on the Arts.
Maria’s website: www.mariaterrone.com
Two nails deftly applied to skin expose
an interior life not red–
though that would shock enough–but red
blackened by the color of blood spilled
and dried in history’s shadow.
You would expect a thousand years
of conquest to produce a bitter
taste. Then how can this sweetness
be? Beware of strangers,
my mother warned, joined
by her parents’ blood to a sun-blinded isle
of secrets. Never trust appearances.
The Sirens were enchanting,
bird legs and claws hidden
behind long hair that blew glorious
as their song over the Straits of Messina.
Sometimes, when fierce currents
force up the deepest dwellers,
their phosphorescence makes the sea
a silver lure to ensnare unwary
travelers–one more Fata Morgana
in a place that loves mirage. So what to make
of these gifts concealed in twisted
tissue? As someone before me has said,
Beware the fruit of your darkest wishes.
From The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Writers on Food and Culture (The Feminist Press, 2002)
Obelisks, arches, columns, etched
with the names of gods and emperors, lit
like a stage set in the Latin way
to dramatic effect—monuments that anchor me
to this moment while they seem to levitate,
a whole city glowing. Back in the U.S.,
the university’s Italian Academy is hosting
a Conference on Randomness. As scholars try
to come to grips with the nature of order
and chance, I stand at this overlook,
in awe that my forebears decided to leave
here, then survived the ocean crossing,
amazed that I survived the flight and can float
on the night with stones and the souls of slaves
who once chiseled, hauled and hefted
each slab onto the next but now roam free
in benign disorder with legions
of wild, unvanquished stars.
Published in A Secret Room in Fall (Ashland Poetry Press, 2006)
Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore, Verona
A chubby fist and wing
float free, severed
from the landscape of human affairs.
Below, a barefoot saint
seems to straddle acres, beaming
casual self-possession, the divine
right to stake eternal claim–but
in the space between
both legs, a third intrudes,
last remnant of a man fading
to white dust. Nine hundred years ago
this wall was his. Reduced
to a toehold, he now spites
the fourteenth-century arriviste,
holding his ground with the ghost
of what he was. The saint remains
oblivious. Centuries sweep
around him like planets’ rings;
the church’s wheel-of-fortune
spins rose light
through plague and war.
Yet so vivid
are his blue and russet robes,
he glistens–a refugee
from a sun shower
who’s arrived dripping wet, an idea
fresh from the brush of his maker.
Poetry magazine, December 1999
MONET AND THE MEDITERRANEAN
It is so beautiful here, so bright, so luminous!
One swims in blue air; it is frightening.
–Claude Monet on the French Riviera, 1888
is what Monet called attempts
to compress that light,
but in nine frenzied
days at Menton, he stopped the flight
of time, trapping moments
inside ten frames. I’m buoyant
here on his mottled seas,
of sea-foam green
a stepping stone to the next,
darker shade, the day drifting
like the crowds until
a guard draws near and I gasp to see
myself walking on water,
and then violet waves
are breaking, pulling
me into the deep.
From The Bodies We Were Loaned (The Word Works, 2002)
TO HOLD THIS SPLENDOR
Last day in Venice: already the future tense
rides these ripples. I see myself drifting in a trance
back home tomorrow, a woman who searches
mirrors for La Serenissima. I’ll touch
the face there, as if blind, but the glass will say
nothing. Insomnia will pull me down to my gated
garden, where I’ll pace in the jaundiced
haze of anti-crime lamps, the latticed
metal fence dragging its shadowed chain.
In tomorrow’s light, I won’t see flames
like cats’ eyes at palazzi windows or the raised
Easter chalice that pressed all eyelids closed.
Maybe it will have rained, so the moon
is drowning in a dozen piddling lagoons,
and beads of stagnant water cloud the blood-
shot red azaleas. In a few hours, night’s gloved
hand will lower a veil over the face
of this arabesque city, and the last traces
of silver will dull, then blacken.
Already I can see my photo album–
Memory’s reliquary stored in a felt sack,
exposed for viewing on cold dark
days. But I’m still here, San Giorgio’s pillars
float so close, I can almost hold their splendor
in my hands, and I’m like a cup once blighted
by a harsh indifferent air, now dipped in light.
From Crab Orchard Review
On a Mediterranean day that reminds me of God
on the Sistine Chapel reaching
down and snapping sparks
between his fingers for the first time,
I am in a car
with my husband at the wheel heading
to Naples daydreaming of Pompeii and how when
liquid fire began to undulate down the mountain crawling
and clawing towards the city how a curtain
must have dropped over the sun and did
those people think
they were still asleep?
As I wonder
a tunnel swallows us.
Blindfolded we fall, hurtling
with no lights front or back
so that we do not exist, have never existed
to those fast approaching, pressing
so close we can hear their steel hearts rumble.
My husband’s hands are grasping at bulges
and squares on the rented car, his hands
that strum guitars, stroke me alive,
his slender, seeking
desperate hands, and I am
thinking that I may die
inside this mountain in this place
where families are frozen forever, hands reaching
across a table for a piece of bread or fixing
a sandal’s loose strap, in the land of my buried
black-eyed ancestors and
just then his fingers find a knob and light,
a big, furry white dog guiding
us out and back into the beautiful blinding Mediterranean day.
First published in Verve
The Tour Guide of Pompeii
scoops the ground
hands a craggy white nugget
to each woman in the group.
This is what buried the city, he says.
Not lava, but pumice,
and of course, poisonous gas.
Moments before, he’d led us
through the heat and dust to view
a glass-encased body,
contorted hands raised
to what had been a face.
The rock feels lighter than air.
Some of us weigh it in our palms,
peer closely, then let it drop.
Others cover the means of destruction
with handkerchiefs to be unwrapped,
carefully, at home.
Pirene’s Fountain May 2009
Poetry in this post: © Maria Terrone
Published with the permission of Maria Terrone