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.
Even tight, feared spaces can expand, morphing from the past
into the fuzz of nostalgia, which I’ll try to avoid here,
e.g., #1, me at 16, looking for the “model studio” listed
in the Manhattan Yellow Pages. Toting a portfolio, I climb
the stairs of a West 40s walkup worn as another century.
“Models?” “No, that’s Cheekie, 2 flights up,”
one red talon points to heaven and off I go.
The National Guard is on patrol
in combat boots and GI Joe camouflage,
M16’s slung down to their hips,
young as boys on Halloween,
ready for anything, and I want
to hand every one of them a bag of candy.
Saturday Afternoon on a New York Railroad Platform
Oh to drape my flesh with the rippling silk of a turquoise sari, gold-flecked above a peek of bare midriff, my eyes kohl-rimmed, hair hennaed, feet sandaled now but also in winter because I carry the subcontinent within me, I shimmer its heat as I stroll down the block to the sounds of Punjabi pop from sidewalk speakers.