Michael Trocchia was born in 1980 in West Hempstead, New York. He lives now in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, where he teaches philosophy and works in the library at James Madison University. His poems and prose have appeared in journals such as: Asheville Poetry Review, Baltimore Review, Black Sun Lit, The Boiler Journal, Caketrain, Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Muse/A Journal, Tar River Poetry, Tarpaulin Sky, and The Worcester Review. Work is forthcoming soon in New Orleans Review and Frontier. He's been a finalist for the New Rivers Press Many Voices Competition, the C&R Winter Chapbook Contest, the Heavy Feather Review Chapbook Contest, and the Marsh Hawk Poetry Prize. He is the author of Unfounded (FutureCycle Press 2015) and The Fatherlands (MPP 2014). Mortals in the Making, a chapbook of poems, will appear in early 2019 from Finishing Line Press.
The Mathematician & Eurydice
“…there is a failure of that feeling for reality which ought
to be preserved even in the most abstract studies.”
-Bertrand Russell, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy
He had to be thinking
of an abstraction, its aftermath
in his eyes. His hand closing
in hers, her touch less than
a memory of it—his feeling
for the fact of her love
to be subtracted, more and
more, from days ahead. Time
has carried little over,
the hour left hanging there
on the far wall like one of many
unsolved problems. And just
below, the first photograph
of them, taken so many summers
ago, when their clothes vanished
layer by layer in that equaling
heat, their bodies irreducibly
one, taken when the sun fell hard
through the trees, scattering
soft tattoos of a shadow world
across her skin, the shifting
patterns like black lace
down both arms. Yes, he’d lean
toward her now, thinking
hard, as he often did, thinking
of then, as if his thoughts
might, for one last time, add up
to a kind of looking back. But
what was there to see, he thought
to himself—the light of another
year dividing endlessly
into others, erasing
her face like one side
of an impossible equation.
For Dreamers in Toil
Leave the impression
of your head on the pillow
and raise an open hand
to your cheek. Something else
wants to be seen outside
the touch of dawn. Take
your foot to the vineyard,
a fool’s grape in your mouth,
a dance away from what behooves
us, the gallop growing in muscle.
Wrap the noon sound around
your fear, the last panic
and sweep of hawks, the earth’s
pitted lap, burrowed for omens.
Let me risk being the man
harried and lost in the topics
of river-time, and you, dear,
the woman rounded by an excess
of ontology. Let us call it miracle
of blood on the bridge, invisible
treatise of twilight, the purple
damage of harvest root
and blossoming still. I’ll learn
us old science like singed
riddles, golden into motion,
and the toll of old wives’ eyes
in windows at night. Receive
this sage kiss, or what was
wept for two dreamers in toil.
Previously published in Muse/A Journal (Spring, 2018)
On Becoming His Parents
The cemetery is a theater
for rehearsals, a chorus
of stone set into the silence.
He stands in his own respect,
sunk into the image they left
him with. It’s a scene raised by wind
only, the small applause of a few
leaves fallen from the same
tree and trailing off—
He is reminded of words
he wanted to say, of stories
he wants to stay—
The ghost is in the looking-
glass: his reflections, never
enough. Now he must turn
his head this way and that, so
to exercise the form and finality
of their lives. He’s been made
to carry their look on his face,
to mime their habits of mind
along his thought, a certain
weakness to be like his own
likeness, the circular logic
of an ancient nerve, the root
of everything he is meant
to pull up from his life.
There is the backward
beat of their youth,
brought along the curve
of his bone, their cries
warming some chamber
inside the body, holding him
against a moment past
his own prime, against
the muscle that moves
each year behind him.
He knows the smell
is their smell, there
beneath his saliva
and sweat, the blood
of their blood paused
inside his chest. To hear
them again is to hear himself
swallow, to disquiet the ingrown
tongue between breaths.
The Pious Tailor
He means well, we guess,
but, yes, no one much cares
for his work, our times much
smaller than he can measure.
So it is all hanging off us, cuffs
swallowing our fists, shirttails
tangled at our heels, our collars
like pillow cases tossed
around our necks. Any woman
might drown inside her dress.
And a man’s mind may be,
at present, lost in the patterns
of his vest. In some inside pocket,
we found the mask he’d have us
wear, one we’d never quite grow
into, as if he’d sewn it into our worst
failures, the eyes buttoned
to the lining of our oversized
calling. The hems of everything
we can’t seem to touch, all loose
thread. “It’s always been my custom,”
he says, his voice creaseless, thin
as a bone needle. “I am to dress
gods, make them appear
as I see fit, no less. So forgive me
then, if it all feels rather large
around the waist, if there’s too much
room at the shoulders. I have faith
you will fill it out in time.” Meanwhile
we wear his clothes like curtains,
our arms outstretched, waiting
for an unearthly wind to blow
the heavy fabric from our limbs.
How to Mortar
after Robinson Jeffers
Make noun love noun, hard-
headed brother. Cypress beaten
into the edge of fury. Hail its blood-
colored bark and limb. Fold wind
into your weakness, the graying
skies into a deaf sea, every sound
drowned in voices of the fog.
Leave the gathering crowd
of dreams on the bone-
white sheets of a deathbed
by the window, or dance
half-mad toward the cliff-
side myth, its heroes ripped
open, lying under a stone
tower, in which the poet sits
and picks out the farthest stars
from his glass of wine. Finally
take pains to bring the hurt
wing of a hawk into the wild
flame. Your face smothered
in the smoke of an angry psalm
and the beauty you never knew
cleared away with the ash.
“...it is not clear that clemency [clementia] ever assumed a meaning distinct from that of a host of near-synonymous terms, including misericordia, lenitas, humanitas, mansuetudo, liberalitas, comitas, modestia, temperantia, magnitudo animi, modus, and moderatio, along with the verbs for sparing and forgiving...”
–from David Konstan’s “Clemency as a Virtue”
His daughter, visiting again, was digging
up bulbs in the garden. He was inside,
sleeping in his chair, his mouth open.
So when the thief came in and saw him
there, he took the words right out of his mouth—
one word after another, as if on the string
of a child’s kite. No, you say, it was not quite
like that: the words came out more like
handkerchiefs of an old magician, knotted
together at the ends. And who could argue
with you? For, yes, when his daughter found
the thief, he was caught in the thornbush,
spitting up meanings for the dove, while
her father, dozing through it all, dreamed
of feathers caught in the air, just before
the winds, he would say, let them go.
First Published in Fourteen Hills (Fall, 2016)
Interview with Michael Trocchia by Amelia Looney
AL: What was the first book, or books, that caused you to fall for the written word?
MT: At seventeen, I fell pretty hard for Hamlet. More than any other work at the time it was Hamlet that hurled me along this course, for better or worse. I knew then I was in it for the long run—whether “it” meant poetry, theater, philosophy, or some mixture of the three. Encounters with beautiful and impactful works then followed in its wake, opening me up in many ways during those years; but Hamlet would be my first obsession with words and much more.
AL: In each of your poems you paint beautiful images of the backdrop nature plays in everyday human experiences, how important is nature to you as an inspiration to your work?
MT: The natural world mystifies me. I grew up among concrete and glass, among asphalt and electric lights. Yes, there was a sandy beach, dunes, a patch of woods here and there, but nature mostly remained hidden, unknown, the stuff of fiction and far off places. You had to seek it out. And the animal world for me was at most a friend’s dog, or birds on a wire, maybe an old horse on a trail along the parkway, or a stray cat at the back door. I moved away from there nearly twenty years ago, to where mountains and goats are near, where cattle and horses graze on hillsides, where stretches of trees and sky surround you, where you can follow the flight of birds, or fix your eye on the buzzards out back. While I’ll never be at home in nature, here it invites me in often, but only as a guest. In my writing I enter it from a distance, as a stranger, like a man welcomed into a house, the inside of which he’s imagined for some time—and, of course, it is and is not like what he imagined. Yes, it mystifies me.
AL: Several of your poems seem to contain underlying themes of mathematics in relation to not only love and death, but the measurement of a human’s worth, was this a conscious choice of theme or something that just happened?
MT: I am not sure how conscious it is, though as I consider it now I suppose many of us find a certain precision and clarity in numbers and equations, but also some deep mystery. I may be drawn to that, and this especially comes through in my writing “The Mathematician and Eurydice.” There we have myth, marriage, and mathematics. All three stake some sort of claim on the eternal, on our sense of everlastingness, or our need for it. All three join together or divide elements in sometimes ways subtle and unusual yet always consequential, whether we are talking about gods, people, or numbers. All three are woven inextricably into our histories, our traditions, and institutions. And while each has its access points, and each promises a kind of clarity in our lives, they all hold something obscure, abstract, and infinite within, something unfinished even.
AL: One of the first aspects of your writing I found brilliant was your choice of titles. What is your process when deciding how to name a poem?
MT: I’m glad the titles struck you up front. I come up with titles in different ways, and can't quite say I've a process that I go to for them. Some titles help me snare what might be flying around in the work. It often emerges only after I discover what a poem wants to do, or maybe it is a concession of sorts. Other titles serve in part to tether me to some thought, image, or question, so to keep the writing from drifting too far off. Some are simply there to invite a reader into something unknown, absurd even, yet hopefully rewarding, while others might intend to situate a reader in myth, in a history or logic, in the life of a character.
AL: In what ways does your background in Philosophy affect your writing? Also, who is your most admired philosopher?
MT: Philosophy helps keep my eye fixed on the universal as much as the particular. And it steadies my mind toward greater and greater uncertainties and, in equal measure, toward greater imaginings. Both find expression in my writing. A most admired philosopher? Presently I find there is much to admire in Arthur Schopenhauer’s thought, yet (as with many thinkers) there’s also a good bit to dismiss.
AL: What are you currently working on?
MT: I have a manuscript of poems from over the last year or two that I’ve been putting together. The poems posted here are among those in the manuscript. There is also a project in the works to collaborate with an artist on a book that would present some of my poems with the artist’s etchings for them. We’re in the very early stages of that project. Also, I just started at work on a series of poems about ancient seers (and would-be seers). We'll see what comes of it.