Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Aim Was Song (November 8, 2019)

The Aim Was Song

Before man came to blow it right
The wind once blew itself untaught,
And did its loudest day and night
In any rough place where it caught.

Man came to tell it what was wrong:
It hadn’t found the place to blow;
It blew too hard—the aim was song.
And listen—how it ought to go!

He took a little in his mouth,
And held it long enough for north
To be converted into south,
And then by measure blew it forth.

By measure. It was word and note,
The wind the wind had meant to be—
A little through the lips and throat.
The aim was song—the wind could see.

Two-Part Inventions


The First Invention, ear laid to earth, is listening
to the fingerlength underground beings moving in segments
through tiny tunnels; one inch shrugs out another,
as bamboo climbs in segments, joint by green joint ...

Or an inexpressive mask that must travel
the world, uphill and down, always keeping its own
counsel, impelling  forward from inward
unspelling a logic that cannot look out or see.

Or a thought that recurs, till one wonders
whether Bach’s theme, without cause, or pause,
is like a cat in a night-closet, the cat evenly leaping
from level to level; the theme that sinks down

into one hand, next leaps to the other, reprises itself,
then doubles down softly, a counterpane on a shelf.


Have you ever noticed, in Piranesi’s Carceri
d’invenzione, the tiny repeating figures in the foreground?
Brittle, frugal, fugal, they ignore that above them
stairways rise out of sight, and somewhere else

collapse, in-swallowed, devolving through walls or domes.
The same way Bach’s motive splays out to the right,
swoons flatly, swans it, footnotes, follows up,
talks to itself, purls, mutters, dawdles, resumes ...

Six is playing at infancy, one three five,
that’s all Baby knows, a block pile clumsily building.
Then the tall chord falls sideways—pretends
it’s a melody—everyone knows it’s a chord—

or a problem in long division which at one point just sticks
on that endless, that déjà vu decimal, six six six ...


Eleven is caterpillars, two, marching: the one
stave of thick-barred sixteenth notes set down
precisely beneath the other, tiptoe to toetip,
close-clinging, rising and falling and mirrored:

one looks down and locks the other’s horns,
or its own; the two could be said to be linked
like the locked yet endlessly out-spiraling
spindled ribbons of DNA. Yet there’s something

scary, like Cicero’s dizzying concept
of motus animi, hurtling mind unstoppably inventing
figures on figures, yet with no vanishing point,
a world of ladders or stairwells

where space keeps revolving, welling up into space
endless, unfree, unfolding like stairs in a case.

A New National Anthem

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always, there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps,
the truth is, every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the short-grass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?

Ada Limón, "A New National Anthem" from The Carrying.  Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón.  

First Blues


That summer night
Was hot
Steaming like a crab
Luscious under the shell

Televisions gone bleary
In front of men
In undershirts drinking beer

Wives upstairs took showers
A glimpse of their backs
In hallway mirrors

I sat in the dark
On the backporch
Drinking in the night

And it tasted good
So good
Going down
And somebody like me

Blew night through an alto sax
Blew and blew
His cooling breath
His hot cool breath on me—

And I came alive
In the dark
Listening like a fool

Saundra Rose Maley, "First Blues" from Disappearing Act. Copyright © 2015 by Saundra Rose Maley.  

Opera Singer


Today my heart is so goddamned fat with grief
that I’ve begun hauling it in a wheelbarrow. No. It’s an anvil
dragging from my neck as I swim
through choppy waters swollen with the putrid corpses of hippos,
which means lurking, somewhere below, is the hungry
snout of a croc waiting to spin me into an oblivion
worse than this run-on simile, which means only to say:
I’m sad. And everyone knows what that means.

And in my sadness I’ll walk to a café,
and not see light in the trees, nor finger the bills in my pocket
as I pass the boarded houses on the block. No,
I will be slogging through the obscure country of my sadness
in all its monotone flourish, and so imagine my surprise
when my self-absorption gets usurped
by the sound of opera streaming from an open window,
and the sun peeks ever-so-slightly from behind his shawl,
and this singing is getting closer, so that I can hear the
delicately rolled r’s like a hummingbird fluttering the tongue
which means a language more beautiful than my own,
and I don’t recognize the song
though I’m jogging toward it and can hear the woman’s
breathing through the record’s imperfections and above me
two bluebirds dive and dart and a rogue mulberry branch
leaning over an abandoned lot drags itself across my face,
staining it purple and looking, now, like a mad warrior of glee
and relief I run down the street, and I forgot to mention
the fifty or so kids running behind me, some in diapers,
some barefoot, all of them winged and waving their pacifiers
and training wheels and nearly trampling me
when in a doorway I see a woman in slippers and a floral housedress
blowing in the warm breeze who is maybe seventy painting the doorway
and friends, it is not too much to say
it was heaven sailing from her mouth and all the fish in the sea
and giraffe saunter and sugar in my tea and the forgotten angles
of love and every name of the unborn and dead
from this abuelita only glancing at me
before turning back to her earnest work of brushstroke and lullaby
and because we all know the tongue’s clumsy thudding
makes of miracles anecdotes let me stop here
and tell you I said thank you.

Ross Gay, "Opera Singer" from Bringing the Shovel Down.  Copyright © 2011 by Ross Gay. 

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