Maria Terrone


White Ionic columns recall ancient Rome—

this banco a safe place

for your cash to lie at rest,

for the populace to do business,

and maybe for two innocents abroad

to exchange outdated lire for euros.

We approach the steps of the temple:

a guard snarling like Cerberus pulls his gun.

But this is not Hades, we see

once escorted inside, our entreaties

in broken Italian at last accepted.

Light pours from a high, gilded dome

and pools at our feet. We have become

the elect, suffused with a saintly shimmer.

The well-heeled tap messages across

seeming miles of gold-veined travertine,

their 18-K bracelets tinkling discreetly.

We offer our banknotes

to the money changer, diamond

pinky ring winking assent

as he begins to count in the sacred hush.


What does the raptor know of what lies in watch

behind the windows’ glare?

Hunched on a branch in late winter,

he wears city-dwellers’ dun-colored camouflage

and the hyper-vigilant look we assume,

surrounded by strangers.

From my apartment window I’m just

another pair of eyes peering out

from this enclosure, its brick façade

like fortress walls.

A hush descends over the creatures

that hop, flitter, scamper and slither

here in our block-long garden that’s now

a domed sepulcher—

a hush like the silence following the gasp

of subway riders when a wild-eyed man

stumbles in, muttering curses,

then stops to gaze at every face,

a hush more alarming than a sudden siren wail

until, like death’s reprieve,

our predator vanishes—palpable absence

within squirrel click and sparrow peep,

all that unvanquished stirring back to life.


Sam was a skilled change-maker in the V.A. lunchroom, fingering

the coins. The man knew the feel of metal. But the bills

that we announced—a single same as a twenty, each one identical

in hand—assumed our honesty. Who would steal from a blind man?

I wondered, a high school kid on a summer job. His sight

had already been seized, the wages of the last world war,

I guessed, judging by his age—the victim of grenades, land mines,

bullets hitting two bulls-eyes. What was left to take from him?

But it seemed to me that while counting, Sam rubbed the faces

of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt like lucky charms.

The man knew loss and he knew gain as a kind of consolation—

a job guarantee, the friendship of fellow wounded workers—

government’s attempt to make amends. Sliding coins across

the counter, he’d smile as if glad to bestow on us, hungry

and faceless federal employees, the hope of his own good fortune.


Booming in the summer night

a cosmic echo, collision

of the Schumaker-Levy comet with Jupiter,

maybe the end of the world, you said.

We laughed but as the booms grew louder,

allowed a terrible belief to seep inside.

We held each other, ready to die;

the larger-than-life circumstances lent

nobility to our dying.

The booms faded, then stopped, and we found

ourselves alive after all, fooled

by the amplified thunder of Jethro Tull

performing a mile away.

So long ago, so many revolutions and comets

behind us. And now, I hear you chanting

Morrison’s “This is the End”

under your breath, as if it were

New Year’s Eve ’99, another apocalypse coming.

Maria Terrone, poetry editor of the journal Italian Americana, is the author of the collections Eye to Eye (Bordighera Press); A Secret Room in Fall (McGovern Prize, Ashland Poetry Press), The Bodies We Were Loaned, and a chapbook, American Gothic, Take 2. Her credits include appearances in POETRY, Ploughshares, Poetry Daily and more than 25 anthologies. At Home in the New World, her creative nonfiction debut, appeared in 2018 from Bordighera.