John Milton Ate an Olive a Day
to recall Italy, to conjure contessas’ lips–
slick, slightly opened, as if to savor
him. Or had he misconstrued? Was the flavor
of ripe vowels their pleasure, the O so dolci sip
of Petrarch’s language, its rise and dip
like waves upon the air what they favored?
In drafty British rooms, wan sunlight wavered,
then fled, but one olive was all it took for a trip
to Paradise. Me? Reading Solzhenitsyn, I haul ten-pound
sacks of potatoes home with cheap vodka to store
underground, I devour beets grown by commune–
that’s how I return to Russia. Buried under a mound
of blankets in a darkened room, I let despair pour
from my blue lips as they mouth a Gulag tune.
–At P.S. 1, Museum of Modern Art
I’m feeling very bourgeois because I’m here but unpierced
except for my earlobes which don’t count, and instead
of big black Buddy Holly glasses that all the museum interns
are sporting with such aplomb, I’m wearing contacts,
which, let’s face it, are just a common cover up for common
myopia, the opposite of making a bold statement.
Upstairs I come upon a closed door in a long hall
of doors opening to exhibits, but there’s a sign outside
inviting all to join the “meeting.” Sudden cold
blast on my skin. High-backed pews line the empty
space that could be a Quaker hall. I take my place, add
my eyes to the four pairs fixed on wispy clouds
drifting across today’s very blue sky, open-air
and framed for viewing. Disembodied male voice:
“Thanks for coming to the meeting.” She,
also disembodied, enthuses, “Isn’t this the neatest thing?”
I tip-toe out, and elevator down
to the unfinished basement, a warren of cluttered
cubicles, passing through an unmarked door
like Alice, and finding myself alone in another hall.
Only one open door: I gingerly descend makeshift
plywood steps even lower, flanked on both sides
by oddly gilded boilers beneath a ceiling that presses in.
A noose huge enough for a slave ship spreads
across the dank floor, weave of thick iron chains
and frayed, filthy rope, ugly as history.
When I turn to go, I hear behind me what sounds
like a trap door banging open and shut.
I don’t stop to look or count the bodies.
From the First Tier, I Can See But Not Read Your Secrets
The blue text flashing
on your phone during the raga,
held at an angle, partially cupped
the way a teenage boy might read
a purloined Playboy under the covers
didn’t reveal much. A distraction, that’s all,
a little rectangle of light that punched
through the dark, until another and then
another appeared below, floating
above the seats Magritte-like,
while on the concert stage, the young woman
and her elderly father, the world’s sitar master,
conversed, passed questions and answers
back and forth with each plucked string.
As more slabs of light hovered,
I imagined model boats pushed from a riverbank
at night, scrolled messages tucked behind
candle-lit masts, but with a jolt I knew
that’s too romantic an image for,
I admit, j’accuse, talking
throughout the main conversation.
Snow Has Taped Shut the Loud Mouth of My City,
crept in like a bandit
from a mountain hideout
to muffle the storm of sirens,
the noisy, driving wind
of our ambition.
The city struggles:
shovels scrape concrete
like the nails of a prisoner,
spin into stasis.
Each random thought falls,
one onto another,
accruing depth and heft.
Ideas take the shape of ice crystals,
pure form, irrefutable.
Later, the meltdown:
all brilliance vanished
in the pool of forgetting.
Maria Terrone is the author of the poetry collections Eye to Eye (Bordighera Press, 2014); A Secret Room in Fall (McGovern Award, Ashland Poetry Press) and The Bodies We Were Loaned (The Word Works), and a chapbook American Gothic, Take 2. Her work, which has been published in French and Farsi, has appeared in magazines including Poetry, Ploughshares, Hudson Review, and Poetry International and in more than 20 anthologies.