That Day on the Beach
Hundreds of horseshoe crabs at my feet
like a regiment slain in their armor.
But crouching close I saw the shells were hollow.
Google told me they must keep molting,
squeezing free each time
from their binding carapace.
Such a relief—not surrounded by death
after all. I felt lighter in that moment
of knowledge, as if emptied out and serene at last
like waves lapping the long jetty.
Pharma prizes these living fossils—survivors
of three mass extinctions—
for their toxin-detecting bright blue blood.
I shivered to picture it: hundreds of thousands
captured each year, strapped above vats
and bled to save lives—
as I was strapped to a table, zapped
33 times. I didn’t think then
about my life, I didn’t think at all.
Allowed a brief time to heal, they’re returned
to the sea. Some, weakened, die.
Others survive and reenter the cycle,
pushing out of their shells, born again and again.
Now I can’t stop thinking about the suffering
all creatures endure, and what it takes to live.
Unstill Life, Winter Afternoon
A scene so rarified, it could be a painting:
a Victorian-era room where teapot and petit fours
lay on a silver tray weakly burnished
by the light of a winter afternoon.
Like stage props, the refreshments remain
untouched. Fingers work to break the stillness,
fluttering on strings that first hum, then sing
the sonata we’ve gathered to hear.
I want Bach to shake me to tears, to erase
all disharmony beyond this grand window.
But the viola yields to the framed image
of a gated park, a wall of window shades
drawn down, and a tree trunk garroted
by last year’s Christmas lights.
What was that downward flash
of orange that just entered my sight—
trash? A robin in free fall?
Or was it flight?
They labor in labs over vellum
shrunken to carbon, misshapen lumps
said to resemble turds, to bring to light
words buried by Vesuvius, dug from the ruins
of a once-splendid villa in doomed
Herculaneum. They wait
for results of CT scans—words as bones,
revealed in 3-D—as I might try
to penetrate the words of others,
I admire their unshakeable faith
probing the disguise
of dried mud, their patient quest
for fragments—a letter or, at most, a phrase—
inscribed by a playwright or, who knows,
an undiscovered Roman wit
or up-and-coming Sappho.
How stubborn they are, alert
to the faintest sign, like would-be rescuers
who won’t lift their ears from the site
of a cave-in, hoping to pull up a word.
Maria Terrone, whose poetry has been published in French and Farsi, is the author of 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. The Word Works will publish No Known Coordinates, her fourth full collection, next year. Credits include Poetry, Ploughshares, The Hudson Review, Poetry Daily, and work in more than 25 anthologies. At Home in the New World (Bordighera) was her creative nonfiction debut. www.mariaterrone.com
on Greg McBride