Petra’s Promise: Part I. Primeval Petra

Petra’s Promise: Part I. Primeval Petra


Puteoli Macellum1

High noon and
sweat beads drip on marble swirls
down in the market
where chemise silks sway
limpid in the springtime breeze
A Molossus,2
big brash boy by the name of Kosmos
barks at salted meat drying
in the colonnade’s shade

His fur like onion stone,3
patches of water moss
rolled on by seaside romps

He trots by
a Girl of four who
twirls her tresses into knots
Her head a crown of corkscrew thorns
miniature Messiah of
Kosmos and
knucklebones4 and kicking up
stones, Petra
daughter of feminine divine,
of Mother who forgets
or rejects
to scold her for rollicking
in the muck
of Father who wars
across seas5
with men of whom
she sees only in daydreams:

Bullyheaded and
chest breasted boils of bicep
sculpted hard cut
like Serapis’ stone6
statue standing in the forum7
fixed center for
worship among the wares

She stares at
the modius8
met upon his head
of curls to match her own
marvels at his marble
gaze, thinks—
Does Serapis see me and
Why does he look so stern and,
mama, Can I be a statue too one day—
but Kosmos howls at the thought
and Mother grabs her daughter of
stones and knucklebones and groans, says
Petra you are no false God but a Girl of four
a Girl who must return home
for supper

And so they go
balancing bundles of tussah for tunics and
bread for breakfast and a
strip of salted meat for Kosmos who
leads the way
through terra cotta kissed courtyards,
beyond bends where bricklayers heft and
cobble packed streets of
taverns and miller grindstones to
weave between bodies who
reach the marina
where waves wilt sleepy
like Petra who yawns, yanks the
tail of Kosmos who yelps—
I have a secret to tell! So,
meet me by dawn at the door—
and Petra nods, thinks,
When did Mama stop hearing dogs talk?


Rione Terra

A morning hum swells
from stone pines9 circling the yard
Finches rustling, rising as
dwells on the horizon
lazy blue purple hue sky
breaking through the portico
into the atrium
into Petra’s room where
she sleep-sweats from
a night terror:

open Earth before her feet
mouth of dirt, slick smile bared teeth
crumbling like cavities rotten
Earth mad in heat
a gas, a salt stench like Persephone’s sweat
phantasmal slag slipping some spit,
consuming one toe two toe three
sliding up slow like
pahoehoe flow10 until
Petra is
boiled down bone and a
deep red glow
cascading down crags, her
limbs; legs hands lodging in
fissures free for the fill
where she settles in firm,
Petra igneous11 stiff so stuck she

Arms leaden in bed
one toe two toe three intact
portent Petra, just a dream
Rises like the finches, fidgets her
feet under covers, flexes
her fingers, alive
Rises from rest
presses her soles to a fixed floor
shuffles small steps
into her hall
almost into a wall
past Mama’s room where
Mother snores deep.
out the front door
onto soil—Careful, she thinks, not to sink
but Kosmos is here
and so this must be real

He turns from his post
tail wagging, eyes wiling
in break of his watchdog ways—
sniff, smells like worry—
his Petra perturbed!
scamper over swift, deliver
A nose nudge
A hound hug so
Girl may calm to say, Kosmos!
My boy! I dreamt of things—
and he may say, Petra!
My girl! I have seen them, too:



Traipse past seashores and
corridors or shops maybe homes up by
the market road beyond cattle wagons, sheep and
See a shallow hole where
tree slopes puff off
specter steam, vapor by Vulcan who
lived there once12

Sulpha terra,13 they say
Pocket of egg exhaust—
poison,14 perhaps!
Careen up the bank where two
effuse at degrees hundreds hot
turning rough rock gold-
yellow-highlight-bright, a
Bocca Grande16 billow plume
sometimes: hiss angry, the
sulfur smoke fumes, spreads loud
over green archaea growing
rare in low acid high heat17
young hypothermophile babes of
Vulcanalia, of
biological bliss

Climb to center crater
find the fangaia18
boiling mudpond bubbling, pops
of gaseous mineral bevy
a place for aristocrat baths or
fated falls19
stomp on the ground to hear
a hollow sound and know that
porous caverns sit beneath—
drag a stick, poke
a hole into this silt
press a paw or
hand inside
see how hot it feels
a rumbling Earth rages here


Rione Terra

These dreams are real, Petra
Girl of stone and
knucklebones and
hearth at home which
you must know one day will
not by firewood or roasting spit but
by broiling basalt
burgeoned of Earth, says
Kosmos who
holds his tail betwixt his legs and
whimpers a song to match the
finches’ morning call

Sunlight has started to
peel over the pines and
Petra, afraid, wonders if it will set the
world ablaze, too— Promise
me, Kosmos, she says,
Protect me in this life and the next;
I am but a Girl of four, no God but
You, Kosmos, are made of sun rays and starshine
You dog must be of the divine—


Girl of four, he barks, you will Grow like
new mountains of yore and ‘morrow, will
learn in this life or other or
next that
You are the Promise of a planet
wept at the hands of Mother
of Father
of warring kin
You are Petra of this Earth
planted to parse, to
protect us
from the worst inevitable
And so by Kosmos
it was decreed

His prophecy left
Petra paralyzed—
thumbs twiddling, breath skipping
A Girl of four with the weight of Home, of
centuries suffering, of
magma mania and gravel galore upon
her Chest— How, she asks,
Am I the chosen?

Kosmos huffs, says:
You will know on mornings when soot
and ash fall upon your cheeks
where to gather and to flee;
You will daydream intuition for how to
these Mountains and craters and calderas beneath;
One day you will speak in fiery tongues
a language of tribes long gone
Sulfur streams will whisper to You, Petra—
You will know.

  1. Pozzuoli’s macellum, or marketplace, was built between the late first and early second century AD, and restored during the third century AD under the Severan dynasty.
  2. Molossus (Greek: Μολοσσὸς), or Molossian hound, is a breed of dog from ancient southern Europe.
  3. Onion stone, otherwise known as Cipollino marble, was a variety of marble used by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
  4. Knucklebones, from which the game of ‘Jacks’ derives. These “knucklebones” (typically anklebones) were those of sheep.
  5. In 203 AD, the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus launched a campaign deep into the Sahara, capturing Garama (modern day Libya). This was known as the Conquest of Garama.
  6. Serapis was a Graeco-Egyptian deity first of the underworld, and was later reintroduced by Ptolemy I Soter as a Sun God of fertility and healing.
  7. A statue of the God Serapis was found in the marketplace during a 1750 excavation.
  8. The modius is a type of flat-topped cylindrical headdress or crown found in ancient Egyptian art and art of the Greco-Roman world, almost exclusively worn by deities.
  9. A tree from the pine family, native to the Mediterranean region.
  10. Pahoehoe is a slow cooling, slow moving lava. It is best recognized by its smooth or ropelike surface.
  11. Rock having solidified from lava and/or magma.
  12. Greek and Roman mythology suggests that Vulcan, god of fire and the forge, worked and lived along Solfatara’s surface. Greek geographer Strabo writes in his Geografia. L’Italia (V,4,6) that the area was called agora Hephaistos.
  13. Latin for “land of sulfur”, or “sulfur earth.”
  14. It is rumored that ancients believed that the sulfur scent of Solfatara was poisonous.
  15. Fumaroles are openings in the planet’s crust that emit steam and gases. These can include carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen sulfide. The steam forms when superheated water condenses as its pressure drops when it emerges from the ground. These fumaroles may occur along tiny cracks, along long fissures, or in clusters or fields. They also occur on the surface of lava or deposits by pyroclastic flows.
  16. Italians call this vent “La Bocca Grande”, or, the big mouth.
  17. Solfatara is home to an extremophile microorganism— one that thrives in conditions that most life on Earth cannot sustain. This microorganism, called Sulfolobus solfataricus, is a thermoacidophilic archaeon, which means that it can grow under conditions of extremely high temperature and low pH. These are not distinct to Solfatara— they grow in many hot springs, solfataric environments, and even in polluted environments like acid mine drainage sites. However, they were first isolated and discovered at the Solfatara site.
  18. La Fangaia, (presumably derived from fango, the Italian word for mud), is a bubbling pool of steam, gases, and rainwater, which turn together into a slurry of clay at the center of Solfatara.
  19. La Fangaia was also the location of the tragic September 12, 2017 accident which claimed the lives of an 11-year-old boy, his mother, and father when a five-foot deep sinkhole opened up and swallowed them. The boy fell in first; his father and mother attempted to rescue him, only to be pulled down by the collapsing rim. The only surviving member of the family was a seven-year-old boy.
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