A Singing in the Rocks

Quirai, the site of the Inquisition in the New World,

Is a cathedral of dust specks whirling in light now.

All the hallucinations of the nave, transept, the chalice with the sound
Of the wind inside it, the saint’s relic like something obliterated

By the cries of another century—are there

To show how little they matter.

He rocks himself to sleep in this refusal to explain.

He naps in the empty spiderweb & is no more than its glistening
In the limbs of the apple tree—

How little they matter.


After driving all night I remember pulling over at dawn,
And climbing a low hill of twisted mesquite & a scattered

Outcropping of rocks gray in that light,

And hearing it there:

Dobro & steel guitar & the pinched, nasal twang of a country tenor,
A singing in the rocks though no one was there, & thinking

At first it was no more than the thin membrane & the cheap,

Inscrutable vision & brief psychosis that comes in the wake
Of methamphetamine, a beige powder that smelled

Like wheat & was as silent, & was, for years, the only company

I ever had the pleasure of being completely alone with.

But the woman traveling with me heard it too, walking up the hill,
Waking to it there, so that she stopped & listened, but it was

As if she listened beyond it.

Even after we heard it there were the routine nights when she liked
To get quietly drunk on cheap vodka & think of her daughter—

Lymphoma a dead bloom in the woods, suspended leaves,

And how the nibbling of what was not yet pain when it began again
Was like disbelief flowing suddenly into the veins,

She was beginning to die, and to know it.

And so the singing, & the no one there, must have been
Different for her.

There was nothing we could do about it, & when the singing began
To grow fainter & cease, there was nothing we

Could do about that, either.

Not that a singing could have changed either one of us.

And the fact that we could not be changed seemed the brief meaning
Of what we listened to, there, until, after a while,

We could hear nothing but the unraveling sigh of traffic behind us

On the interstate. “Fuck you,” she said, & turned to walk down

A small path leading to the car, the parking lot, to a couple of

Weather–beaten public restrooms, the beige paint flaking off
The concrete & cement.

Beyond the valley I looked across there were mountains,
And beyond them, only another range of mountains,

And beyond them, another.


He is & is not the empty track of the fox,
And is & is not the edge of the wood that seems to be listening,
The paths disappearing again & again,

And the swirled snow making the darkness of the shop fronts

Visible, to show you how little they matter.


So say it & be done with the saying of it:

He waits & will wait forever in the delicate, small bones of the knight
Asleep in his luster, his armor, the glint of the swordblade at his side

Reflecting the raining sky & a life without the slightest hesitation.

He rejoices in pleasures too pure for this world.
He is the sore screech of the wheel in the addict’s voice,

And disbelief itself under the summer stars.

And the tenor voice of the sax & the snow swirling on the city streets
To frame the unsayable, & mute the sayable.

And in the perpetual snow of syllables meant to praise him,
Nothing changes but his sex & his preoccupations, so that he becomes,

In time, the woman

With a birthmark & a puzzled expression on her face as she listens
To the clattering loom of voices in the asylum, listens

For the scrape of the keel on the sand & the gulls’ cries.

If he is the saying, he is the obliteration of the saying,

And the sore screech of the wheel that outlives the addict.


They will say he is the saying & the finishing of the saying,
And that even the unsaying restores the beginning.

It isn’t so, & the hawk caught in the boy’s net

That I watched, later that day, had no sophistry about it, no guile.
Its choice was the tearing of itself to shreds.

So that, in an hour or so, it bled to death. And, therefore, no.
And therefore

He is the moment the trap springs give & something is snagged
For a last time in the cross–stitched mesh of the net.


So say that on a hill of twisted mesquite & a scattered outcropping
Of rocks gray in that first light,

He was the singing & the no one there,

Dobro & slide guitar & the pinched nasal twang of a country tenor.

And a dust of snow, already, glimpsed suddenly in a furrow,
On a windowsill, on the frayed cuff of someone on a park bench

Staring intently at nothing, at passing traffic.

And therefore I say without the fear

That has been my faithful accomplice, & conniver corkscrewing

Through all my days until they resembleth the cracked glaze of frost
Already dissolved

By light, by the nothing all light is,

That in the moment after Dobro & slide guitar & the pinched note
Of defeat in her voice had ceased,

Something continued, unaccompanied, as I turned away from it,
And therefore,

He is the singing in the rocks & the no one there.

He is the pain & the frostbite in the melody.


There should be some third & final thing to say of him here, although
It should be said by someone else, leaning at four a.m.

On the scuffed black leatherette of a too–tall, out–of–fashion speaker,
Only the amp glowing on the dark stage of a country rock bar

In Missouri, smoking & staring out at the empty dance floor,

And there isn’t. And therefore:


What comes after, in the walking home alone forever, & the writing it
Out, is like the testimony of a witness, always imperfect, changing,

Until one is spent in the exhaustion of the music, in each twisted,

Unmemorized limb of mesquite scoring the blood spattered
Hawk’s screech of each note—no voice left in it & no accompaniment—

What comes after is the knowledge that

One is no longer part of it, & can no longer be part of it,

Who, with no one to answer to, passes the brown, indifferent grasses

In the winter months, the lascivious blooms that come on later, cock
Purple & blush pink, noticing them one moment, then looking away

Without focusing on anything in particular, unable to believe either
The chill of visitation or any lie the wind tells him—

Forgetting, & becoming,

Without the slightest awareness of it in that moment, another.  end