St. Joan of Arc classroom and cloakroom revisited, 2018
Queens, New York
The very sound of it was foreign to our ears. Who wore cloaks? Vampires. Stealthy spies with hidden daggers. And men in top hats who appeared in movies and old-fashioned story books. Certainly no one we knew as first-graders at St. Joan of Arc—except, perhaps, for the nuns whose sleeveless black capes swirled in their hurried winter walks through the schoolyard to the convent. But their habits covered every inch of skin up to their necks; even their brows were partially obscured by fabric stiff as cardboard and white as their bony hands—the only other flesh exposed. So, on second thought, we couldn’t really say we “knew” the nuns when their very bodies were concealed and their lives outside the classroom a mystery.
Even if the day was sunny, the air would seem to darken the longer we drove and the farther we bore into the industrial zone. The red brick factories built early in the 20th century were still holding on then, producing staples, electrical circuits, distributor caps and who knows what else. Yet I recall no workers on the streets. There were no stores, no streets, no sidewalks, just ruts. It’s as if the factories were run by ghosts and the only evidence of life was an occasional wisp of smoke rising into gray haze.
Driving on the Peak to Peak Highway through Colorado’s Rockies with my husband, Bill, and his mountain-climbing friend, Bob, I glimpsed in the valley beyond a cluster of low buildings painted blue, pink, and green. It looked as if a 19th century frontier mining town had been transformed by a happy band of pot-smoking hippies who had journeyed cross-country from Woodstock. The incongruity was so pronounced, I wondered if the air at 8200 feet had thinned my brain cells, causing hallucinations.
There is something in me that loves an island. I live on one (Queens, New York, on Long Island, across the East River from the isle of Manhattan). I’m attracted to all kinds—those buried by volcanic eruptions; adrift in a blue void endless as the cosmos; locus of nearly extinct languages; and even the fictitious Island of Lost Souls ruled by the mad scientist Dr. Moreau.
“Once / a single cell / found that it was full of light / and for the first time there was seeing.” With these words from W.S. Merwin, Maria Terrone opens her third full-length collection of poetry, Eye to Eye. If the unifying theme of Terrone’s book is seeing, as this quote and the book’s title imply, then Terrone sees the world in all its blemished and brutal multiplicities. She sets the stage with the collection’s first poem, “Spaccanapoli.”
From the elevated train in Queens, I’d glimpse the phantasmagoria that was 5 Pointz. A riot of color and occasional faces covering every inch of the old, block-long factory, it felt hallucinatory. In a minute—not enough time for the eye or brain to take it all in—the images vanished and the train rumbled underground, heading to Manhattan.