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Stephen Massimilla is a poet, critic, professor, and painter. His newest book, The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat, is forthcoming as a contest winner from Stephen F. Austin State University Press. He won the Bordighera Poetry Prize for Forty Floors from Yesterday, the Grolier Prize for Later on Aiaia, a Van Renssalaer Award judged by Kenneth Koch, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and two Pushcart nominations. His volume Almost a Second Thought was runner-up for the Salmon Run National Poetry Book Award judged by X.J. Kennedy. Massimilla has recent work in AGNI, the American Literary Review, APR, Atlanta Review, Barrow Street, The Bitter Oleander, The Colorado Review, The Greensboro Review, Denver Quarterly, Provincetown Arts Magazine, The Southern Poetry Review, and many other journals and anthologies. He is a founding member of the Urban Range poetry collective and holds an M.F.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. He teaches literary modernism among other subjects at Columbia University and the New School. For more info: www.stephenmassimilla.com/


from the icy seas
within us, who loosens the Baltic,
plunges under an opposing
pulse and into another intensity
where life branches, artery to artery,
vein to vein, always deeper into the heart
of the rock. One day
the forked fire of the chestnut trees
will ignite a smudge in clots of dead

water trickled from the walled towers
of the Appennines to Romagna . . .

Eel, torchight, whip,
Cupid's harrow in the earth
which only our mudcracked Pyrenean
gutters can ditch-deliver
to the paradise of fecundity;
green fighting industry, probing
for life where the Rubicon is pulled
into a pillaged underworld;
every moment says
to make an end is to begin
were everything is charred,
a twig in its grave
rainbow, twinned
iridescence under black lashes
that flashes in the center
of the empire of your eye,
bringing light to the sons of men,
in this
don't you recognize your Sister?

*Loosely after Montale [Today, Svignano sul Rubicone is an industrial town; the Rubicon has become one of the most polluted and diminished rivers in Romagna, practically eliminated by the exploitation of groundwater.]


I fixed on a white hawk in the drifting sky,
slow-circling ghost echoed in slow water,
and how the sun spun through that clear cut glass
to filigree two rippling shin-deep stones

when out across the river, one large shape
moved toward me, moved, a dark ripple of fur,
light breaking unevenly over him, stumbling
from the woods, weight shifting side to side.

I wasn’t afraid to see him bulging there,
focused on a thing I couldn’t see; with one
quick cuff, a shuffling on the bank, he slapped
a fish up from its refractory source.

Then finally he turned to look at me, flagged
with his catch, wagging his head from side to side.
When he bounded down to shadow-waves
and crashed beneath the fir trees spreading up,

the heat stayed, wavering back where he had been,
moving like a live thing in that zone no hawk
could track. I watched the ghost give up the ghost.


In basil-blue morning lit inwardly
by overlooked light, I wish, O sea—
not quite to live forever, but I do want to take
my fill of you, a long lascivious look.

Wings list in the wind past
the hydrofoil sluicing airy distance.
Like a wayfarer in porticoed light
who espies the sheen of a nude

lying loose on vanilla pillows, I want to gaze
with the reach of gulls feathering space
over a peach-and-rose sunup glancing
in cold mirrored shells of the Emerald Grotto.

Simmering brilliancies—however touristed—
are like glazes, waves, wicks dipping in a million
minds arriving, sparking, or gone.
Even the most local intimacies

which no visitor ever notices are requited
by the sweep of these waters, stroke
after stroke of mist marking distance,
flour-sack sails, cream-colored coves.

Drifting down past the crusts of cliffs,
fresh breath of lemons, salt, and cypress wood...
Before your conquered and conquering rocks,
my flesh, right here.

Here and forever with empty arms,
any man's ocean-crossing longing.

All three poems copyright ©2012 by Stephen Massimilla. All rights, including electronic, reserved by the author. Photo "Red Leaves" (C) by Allan B. Rubin. All rights reserved.

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