Dreaming the Face: A Tribute to Anthony Piccionne
    Amy Jo Ross
AEven before the book arrived, I went looking for the dead man: deep into the woods of mosquito buzz and thistle bush and the mind’s slow rendering. All this wandering around, tripping over tree roots, mumbling under my breath—all this because one man said Anthony Piccione had a “relentless insistence on Being-in-the-Word” and another, who left purple bruises all over my breasts, thought maybe he would send some of my poems to his teacher.

And so, when the book finally appeared in my mailbox, I spent a long time staring at the face on the back cover. Anthony Piccione had a face one could listen to: a face that might, at any given time, “rise up in powerful calm, in witness of being / to point past the measure of self, that shaky science, / to strong feathery presences…” Not a bitter face. Not a rushing one. A crooked nose. Lumberjack hair. The kind of eyes one might avoid on the train. The kind that ask deceivingly simple questions, such as “Now that we know where we are, what took us? / What the hell is this? What else have we done?” The kind that leave us staring into our own palms, wildly forgiven.

Of course, I am writing about the photograph of a dead man—a friend of a friend’s well-loved ghost. (And the pages of jealous, blurred ambition that go here.) Light and shadow on the lens of the poem. And light again, when I am told calmly: “It is not possible to find God, or enough, or even to grow old / without weeping for the exquisite distance in between, / but whatever it is we have done, there is a face for it.” This wisdom, with all its grace and subtle humor, arrives at a time in my life where the distance of the last few years seems lonely and badly planned; I am thankful for any words that force air into my stomach and sweeten the possibility of the moment, especially when those words offer an equally warm acceptance of myself and all the beautiful and not so beautiful faces around me.

Anthony Piccione, I am convinced, knew a little something about Being-in-the-Word, that lifelong practice of attention and openness. He understood truth not in abstract ideas but perhaps in one single moment of clarity. One moment of clarity is all we are entitled to on this Earth and once such moment is given to us, we lose it and go searching for it again, in ashing, sweet repeatition untill “stiff-hearted…dizzy…curse and prayer unravel together.” Such blend of curse and prayer is what Piccione hoped we poets would discover in our own lives, admitting: “You still can’t dig a post-hole without wondering about God.” His was not an easy journey, even in words of pure joy, he knew: “but the cold sparks of my labor will not lift me. / Nothing here will bend or fit or give in.” In this, Piccione's work in poety and in "being" reminds us of Rilke's "Book of Hours." It was Rilke, who demanded of us as poets and human beings: "from elegy must praise arise." Piccione confirmed: “Aching sore, far from grace, things yet seem playfully awake.”

His poetry, like his face, is a ruddy, worn testament of human existence in its ever-changing form. These are poems that fall asleep in meetings and fuck in the rain and know how to fix a roof—poems that are carefully chiseled so that they “barely mask / the stark machinery of body” and so that we “glimpse emptiness facing us from / within, down a wet esophagus strangling in the light.” Imagine a chorus of open throats, ghastly and off-key, yet forever radiant in their robes and human faces.

Amy Jo Ross lives and works in Washington, DC. Her poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Visions International, Potomac Review and Winners: A Retrospective of the Washington Prize.


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