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The Spot | Necessity | Diabole

Elaine Terranova

The Spot

The spring my father died,
when I came to believe that everyone 
was mortal, I found a spot at the back of my leg,
jagged and dark, that held on like a tick.
I waited for it to grow into a cancer.
First blemish, I thought, in a spoiling fruit.
So small, and yet a mark, a certainty.

Iād been in Egypt, studying the past.
One day, a colossus lay before me in sand
as if it had just fallen across my path.
A cart driver was taking me along the desert
to a buttery or a pottery, he might even
have been saying, leprosary. He couldnāt
be stopped. We came at last to a Coptic church 
where he showed me signs drawn 
in old copy books, a blue-tiled emptiness.

I became aware of the spot as I climbed 
up to my place in a vast arena.
I was looking down behind me at small, 
scattering figures. The performance,
a circus or spectacle, just about to begin.


While I was young, while death
was still the exception, 
turning up unexpected, shining,
like a coin at the bottom of my purse, 
I lived for the first time 
away from home, two floors up 
from a furrier and just above
a Greek family 
where a sister killed her brother.

Some Saturdays a deaf man 
went from door to door selling needles. 

And Iād thought, "Yes. 
What a quiet activity it is, 
to sew." I too lived 
without the bewitchment of speech.
Even the sound of rain stunned me. 
So I trembled to hear 
the wretched mother keening.

Slowly, I filled up my small room--
the years at home had starved me 
of myself. To say I was happy 
is not exact. More,
like someone who agrees
to her own sacrifice or exile,
that it was necessary.

Night after night
the womanās wails rose up 
through the floorboards. 
I imagined her in black, rent clothes 
with her double sorrow, 
grief rising and falling back.
I imagined 
that terrible rocking.

Each day as I passed beneath
the dark arch of the stairwell,
I waited for her 
to wave away scarves and darkness 
and emerge, clear-eyed, somehow reconciled.


You know how night shuts down everything,
and it is only the moon that stands there,

Well, I am thinking of 
Rembrandtās dark interiors, how he pulls 
the person out of the shadows. "Woman with Pink,"
for instance. She is holding a flower before her 
as if to light her way into the world.

Or of vampires, who can only live, if that
is what they do, at night--collectors
of loss, my friend, an expert, calls them,
dirt from the homeland, one or two 

bartered Botticellis. Theirs is strictly
a literary existence, no roots, sheād say,
in the collective unconscious. That is why
they are beloved, creatures of longing,
as we are, for what has never been.

I did not go to the high school reunion.
Twenty known deaths so far. 
Even our crewcut class president 

who led cheers in white bucks, 
raving away the dark. I hope my friend Ted
is still alive and no walking skeleton with AIDS.

Sometimes now, thereās the same impatient rain
I remember from that time, with a brilliant sun 
to follow, radiance behind everything, 
like a view glimpsed in a rearview mirror.

Tonight, eating these half-withered, negative
little plums, the end of their season, 
I am listening to Bachās Partita for solo violin. Imagine
the instrument, pouring out its heart alone like that.
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