One of several names given to a ghost island that appeared in July 1831
When the buried volcano erupted,
sulfuric smoke leapt from the Sicilian sea,
seeped through locked, felt-lined chests,
blackening the silverware.
It was like rage—flames and letting go,
the sea a bubbling cauldron of dead fish,
a bad taste in the mouth.
An islet rose from the depths—
not glittering Atlantis, but a desolation
swiftly spreading like news of its strange
arrival. Who can know why four nations
would stake claim to a stark mile
of tufa and pumice, what a naval surgeon called
“unhallowed ground”? Even the gulls fled,
screaming, but not the scientists, dreamers,
cartographers who eyed nearby Tunisia,
and writers seeking mythic inspiration—
Jules Verne, Sir Walter Scott,
James Fenimore Cooper, Alexandre Dumas.
Like a wine connoisseur, someone sipped
the water of its two ponds, living to pronounce
the red one “salty, spicy,”
the yellow one “sulfuric.”
By December, the ghost had vanished
to a smudge of shoal with a new British name.
Soldiers and sailors returned home.
Contessas reclaimed their silver spoons.
Maria Terrone is the author of two poetry collections, A Secret Room in Fall and The Bodies We were Loaned, as well as a chapbook, American Gothic, Take 2.