THE BANK OF NAPLES
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to exchange outdated lire for euros.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.
THE BLIND CASHIER
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.