Tony Trigilio: Three Poems
Face on Mars | Corrosive | My Vertigo
Face on Mars
Play of light and shadow in the Cydonia region snapped
by Viking Orbiter, a forehead slopes carved
in millennia of wind and gravity. A trick
the lonely face of distance,
a prisoner's solitary hallucination.
Tonight: the Leonid meteor shower, debris
only visible in the Midwest this week. Streaks,
I make them wiggle into fireworks, anxious green,
another trick of the eyes. A secret mirror,
that sense of collusion between seer and seen.
I used to stare at the back of heads to make
them itch. I look hard enough to make it real, learn it takes
the gaze of ancient astronauts, or the last look
a mother gives before she reaches for her pills.
I followed her smoke helix, Salem filters,
rise from the ashtray while my father fell
dead on the couch overtime at the mill.
When I look at my family, I see the Face on Mars
staring back. Eyes dumb as streetlights, two pearl sacks
beat-up from memory, I cross North Avenue. Green tails
streak west to east. Someone sneaks a handicapped spot
at Kinko's, other cars roll past,
discordant as space junk. In Cydonia,
mute mesas and buttes, a scattering of ruins,
monumental enough. Stares back till one of us blinks.
Sand ripples from her shoes.
Her years of borders cannot
exceed this swell, urge of sea
she came for, poised between
spark and plunge, a mother
concealed by earth and tide.
We could baptize you
just like when my family came.
Except just your feet.
Glass mountains erased
in watercolor, cliff house
sliced into sand. She knows
other voices, too, they crack
the lock of your door,
burn your mouth in prayer.
You look down, then away
as he passes. And never look back
at yourself, the space behind
your navel scorched.
Etches close to surf,
each foamy lift, wave,
chased by sea that spawned it:
mother, father back in their old country
as if they never left at all.
She comes for them now,
a child raised, a globule
in the churn, an unlocked
cell built into rock.
She thinks again: We could baptize you.
Except just your feet. Bends to laces
gnarled nine hours by airports.
Frees a stubborn knot, the grayest wave
tonight drapes her feet.
Bare, she is the Black Madonna
of her family, where blessed lambs,
dumb offerings, still burn
for her in charcoal, for harvest.
The ocean stings, this ache
her mother's witchcraft,
these drowning rocks.
This high tide corrodes the sand.
As if from a drum machine. Quarter-note pulses.
I hear a tick-tock in the middle
of my head. I'm dizzy when I get up or turn around.
This is not a poetry trick. My sloppy head
is not some symbol of something else. I'm dizzy.
I'm scheduled for an appointment with Dr. Purcell
tomorrow, but till then I'm awash every time
I stand up, turn my head. Might as well be a man
built to swing with skyscraper winds.
Shelly says check the new age web sites, maybe
my chakras are opening. The same thing
happened five years ago. Dr. Engleman said it wasn't
stroke, heart valve, brain tumor, or diabetes.
She said it goes away, that the medicine prescribed
for this malady actually stands you up
in a small raft, the water green and the sky slate with storm,
before it makes you better. Sounded like leeches,
or cold baths for fever, so I figure I'll take my chances
with chakras those quarter-notes struck
by drum machine programmers who pull the song down
so low, tell their lies so well about the spur of the moment
that our watches sputter and no one
leaves the room without dancing.
When I was 16, I learned the word "vertigo"
a week into the hosptial with dizzy spells.
I tested it with my nurse: The room spins when I get up
it's vertigo. She nodded, helped me into
a wheelchair. Dr. Kirkland said it was bacteria
in my urine. I was afraid of him, so I couldn't say
they actually started the night I dreamed my grandmother,
just two weeks dead, climbed into a carriage
pulled by Emily Dickinson's horses and gestured with
her shaky hand I come with her. I was sinking
into my bed, down down down down, and dizzy.
Photo credit: Elizabeth Lent
Tony Trigilio's poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Hotel Amerika, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Big Bridge, Admit Two, and many other journals. He is co-editor (with Arielle Greenberg and David Trinidad) of the poetry magazine Court Green. He teaches at Columbia College Chicago, where he directs the undergraduate poetry program.