Elaine Terranova











Last night for the first time
I dreamed I died.
But I went on living after
to see what this meant to the world.

For a while the shade
did not advance,
the sun didn’t retreat.
It was permanent afternoon.

A train arrived at a station
and all the stunning scenery fled
that the whole way
had been rubbing up against it.

Somewhere a man laid out
a game of solitaire
on a wrought-iron table.
Just his hands, what I saw,
and the cards.

And everywhere people stood or walked,
separate, upended, carrying
as they do
that cross in the shape
of their bodies.

There was a brittleness in the leaves,
the summer stiffening.
My eyes closed
in my dream, and an hour passed
very fast in sleep. I woke
at the slap of pigeon wings
against the red-tiled roofs.
The shade came then, and it gave


The First Time/Terranova/pg. 2 of 2 pg.





a shape to everything.
I could see I wasn’t alone. Other spirits
crouched in the mountains.


Soon the same stars I remembered
would burn, they’d be
as persistent. And that was that,
night overtaking day, autumn, summer,
shadow falling over
the face of the apple.





A Street





I’d come to many times, or never. Wide, the kind that tires you, getting across. I was crossing for a bus to the magnetized, other side. There were a number of us, ragged, hesitant, as if returned from a war.  I looked for the jewels of light, gold, red, green, but none watched over us. Like a game piece, I rested where I was set, in the sun, and looked both ways. Then what bisected my path? The buzz of a motor bike or measuring tape’s steel snap. A run of mercury.  Like a glazer’s blade, like a migraine’s bead.  Silvering so fast, before I even knew, dividing the present from the past.  I reached the curb. A bus came. The driver didn’t know the change and I helped him, taking back a shiny dime. Some of us sat forward and some in the rear looked back. I saw then this was the street of my childhood. I wasn’t going anywhere, only on the short course of my life.





from Dollhouse:  Nightmares


How could you not have them?

Exposed as you are, always,

on the one side.  Who is watching?


There are prayers before sleep

as though they were all undertaking

a great journey.  Probably they are.


For you walk and walk in your dreams,

the ground giving way underneath.

And what of the man in the cellar?


The doll children are afraid that

they have not prayed hard enough.

Therefore, they put off the night as long

as they can. Weighted down by flannel,


they whisper through the thin wall

that separates their connected sleep.





« The First Time » from my book Not To: New and Selected Poems, « A Street » from my most recent book, Dames Rocket, and « from Dollhouse: « Nightmares » to be published in a forthcoming book, Dollhouse.












In 1939, Elaine Terranova was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she came of age in a working class neighborhood. She received a Bachelor’s degree in English from Temple University in 1961 and an MFA from Vermont’s Goddard College in 1977. In 1980, she published a chapbook of poems, Toward Morning/Swimmers (Hollow Spring Press).

Her first full-length collection, The Cult of the Right Hand (Doubleday, 1991), was chosen by Rita Dove as the winner of the 1990 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets.

Since then, she has published Dames Rocket (Penstroke Press, 2012) Not To: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2006); The Dog’s Heart (Orchises Press, 2002); and Damages (Copper Canyon Press, 1996). Terranova also translated a Greek play, Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), which was produced by the University of Kansas in 2002, and by the University of North Dakota in 2008.

Concerning Terranova’s first book, Dove wrote: « Elaine Terranova’s streamlined poems belie their unsettling power. There is no gratuitious adornment here—instead, we find the moment apprehended purely, through the rare angle of detail we come to recognize as the poet’s unspoiled dominion. »

About Terranova’s career, the poet Susan Stewart has said: « Over many decades now, Elaine Terranova’s poems … have opened the possibilities of perceiving, choosing, and concluding so consistently, and with a subtlety and economy so much her own, that they are truly beyond compare. There is a dark energy to her art, a force of negation and silence that is carried along at once consciously and unconsciously. »

Her honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. She was the Banister Writer in Residence at Sweet Briar College in 1996. Her poetry has also been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, and in 2001, her poem, « The Choice, » was selected in connection with the Poetry Society of America’s Poetry in Motion project and appeared on buses and in subways throughout Philadelphia.

Terranova has been an editor and a teacher of creative writing, as well as an Artist in Education in Pennsylvania schools. She has served on the faculty of the University of Delaware, the Curtis Institute of Music, and Temple University.

She is currently on the faculty of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Rutgers University, Camden, and teaches at the Community College of Philadelphia.

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