~This poem was previously published in Hawai’i Pacific Review (2011).
I’m a stumbling novitiate here
in jutting shadow, glancing at my watch
when a church bell tolls:
it’s 1:20, a time of no apparent meaning,
but the bell resounds, insistent as old men roaring
by on vespas like God almighty, click of stiletto sandals
Magna Graecia stones, Bulgari jewels that spin
prisms down shop-clotted alleys. Boys joust with friends
and soccer balls in passageways; when doors open
on pot-clatter, then shut, their nail-hung red-pepper rosaries
rise up to knock a blessing. Ciao! Bella! Over-ripe vowels
thicken the air; I’m lost in black eyes, as if tumbling
through layers of earth and time into a chamber swelled
by a cult’s chants, the tinkling percussion of buried
springs. Chink in the wall! I climb the light
on a spider’s thread to rejoin the human web:
vendors crowd basilica steps with offerings
of red shoelaces and hand-carved mangers.
From a sidewalk niche,
Neptune lifts his trident
over us all: Alla vostra salute, the grime-streaked
gated palazzos; bomb-gouged churches
where bare-shouldered teenage girls kneel
in the glow of Caravaggios; the hidden gardens
sheltering galaxies of lemon trees.
Inside a cloister, 15 marble skulls grin
‘round the monk’s graveyard plot
(the one wreathed with laurel is laughing),
and I think I could live here with a book
and the happy dead, looking up sometimes to watch
this nun with her radiant rag polishing their heads.
*One of the oldest sections of
Naples, center of the original Greco-Roman city of . Neapolis
Alla vostra salute: Here’s to you
~This poem was previously published in Notre Dame Review (2010).
Unpaired Manuscripts at the Pierpont Morgan Library
A trellis of golden vines
entwined around the letter A--
in the Middle Ages, stories began
at the beginning, a life painted
and compressed inside a few small squares
that followed, one after the next,
like doors opening to a citadel
of light. Responding to George Plimpton’s invitation
to be interviewed by the Paris Review
on the art of fiction, Ernest Hemingway
writes from the Ritz in Le Ville Lumière, “Fuck
the art of fiction,” but thinks better
of slamming the door shut, and, in four pages,
charms his way back into his future.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
“Spaccanapoli”: I’ve long been attracted to Naples, once a jewel of the ancient empire of Magna Graecia but a misunderstood and often maligned city of great beauty and mystery. On a trip to this home of my paternal ancestors, I knew I had to visit the dark, clotted streets of Spaccanapoli, center of the original Greco-Roman city of Neapolis. The density of sights, sounds and scents was nearly overwhelming in this place where life and death; graffiti and Caravaggio; the primeval and the modern live side-by-side—an experience that pulled me in even deeper. I felt as if I were time-traveling to the below-ground streets and chambers of the actual ancient city, and deeper into myself. How could I not write a poem about this place?
“Two Doors”: The Morgan Library, founded to house the private library of financier J.P. Morgan but open for decades to the public, is a marvelous place. What struck me as I peered into the treasures within the glass cases was the great contrast between a medieval illuminated manuscript and a cheeky letter from Ernest Hemingway to George Plimpton. It’s the work and pleasure of poets to find connections between seemingly unrelated things. I enjoyed discovering how the physical shape of a boxed letter in that medieval manuscript suggested a door, and how that door opened in my mind to the Hemingway letter.
ABOUT MARIA TERRONE
Maria Terrone is the author of two poetry collections: A Secret Room in Fall, co-winner of the McGovern Prize (Ashland Poetry Press, 2006) and The Bodies We Were Loaned (The Word Works), as well as a chapbook,American Gothic, Take 2. A third collection, Eye to Eye, will be published by Bordighera Press in 2014. Her work has appeared in such magazines as Ploughshares, Poetry, and The Hudson Review, and in 20 anthologies, including The Waiting Room Reader Vol. 2 (CavanKerry Press, 2013) edited by Rachel Hadas. Her website is www.mariaterrone.com.