from the icy seas
who shakes off the Baltic
to rejoin our shores, our estuaries, our rivers,
plunging under an opposing
pulse into another intensity

where life branches, artery to artery, 
vein to vein, rooting ever deeper  deeper into the heart
of the rock...filtering

though slimy capillaries until, one day,
forked fires striking through the chestnut trees
will ignite a quiver in clots of dead 

water trickled from the towering cliffs
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;

the spark that says
to make an end is to begin
where everything is charred,
this twig in its grave,
this rainbow, brief twin
to iridescence under your lashes
flashing in the center
of the empire of your eye,
streaming light to the sons of men;
immersed in your bank of mud -- in this, can'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.


Three poems copyright (c) 2012 -2013 by Stephen Massimilla. All rights, including electronic are reserved by the author. 

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Stephen Massimilla is a poet, critic, professor, and painter. His latest book, The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat, was selected in the Stephen F. Austin State University Press Poetry Prize competition. He has received the Bordighera Poetry Prize for Forty Floors from Yesterday; the Grolier Prize for Later on Aiaia; a runner-up citation for the Salmon Run National Poetry Book Award for Almost a Second Thought, selected by X.J. Kennedy; a Van Rensselaer Award, selected by Kenneth Koch; an Academy of American Poets Prize; and multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Massimilla has recent work in AGNI, American Literary Review, APR, Barrow Street, The Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, The Greensboro Review, Provincetown Arts magazine, Quarterly West, The Southern Review, Tampa Review, Verse Daily, and many other journals and anthologies. He is 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: