Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2017  Vol. 16 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Tell me a story,you say, once we settle,
ready for words. Tell me a story
about freedom. We shift apart,
embrace, shift again. And I wonder,
aren’t stories what we tell ourselves
when we are not free? It may be
that thirst and the quest to relieve
that thirst are what passes for being free.
It may be that only love is free,
arising as it wills. Do we know
what sorts and separates and seals us
apart, self-enclosed? If I could, I’d be
a river—a river carries sky on its skin.
Tell a story, you whisper. And Who am I,
I muse, meaning who am I inside the story?
In stories as in dreams one can play
all the parts. Husk off your name,
Beloved—that’s when the singing starts.
And now it starts. I begin to see a river
coursing through a meadow. I see
olive trees and the dark mouth of the cave.
I’m listening to the river and to the
singing head afloat in the river’s current.


And yes, it’s the severed head of Orpheus
singing, his dark hair spread out
as if on a pillow, river the only bed
that floats what’s left of him
into time and space, singing. The maenads
have killed him, and he’s singing,
he whose pain caused him to lose
the woman he wanted returned to life.
Is this consequence or punishment
or whim? With her, he’d been alone
alone as a tree is, or a flower in the field,
a pebble, a fawn, a cloud  . . . each thing
integral and entire. It had been his gift
to sing each thing forth,
his voice the god’s flute. He had known
only fullness. And when Eurydice
was taken, he grieved, he went
willingly into the dark of the earth,
he bargained, he sang her back—song
now the bargain we make with loss,
and it isn’t free. The price
is uncertainty. He wasn’t to look back
to see if she followed. You know the story.
He couldn’t bear the pain of not knowing.
So he did, he turned his head
and he looked into the emptiness . . .


Was she there? She was, or she had been.
Trusting the gradual return of her nature
from mist to flesh, she had followed.
Her hands unfurling, the lifeline
in her palm once again rivering in.
Her nipples hardening in the cold, dank air,
the whorls of her ear petals blooming.
She could open her eyes—but the gods
had withheld her voice. Pure transience
has no voice. She couldn’t breathe
a syllable or sigh that would let him know
she followed, approaching the light,
brighter now that she could see the river.
Blown back the moment he looked into her eyes.
Dissolving back into a mist. You know how mist
rises off a river—like that, but in darkness.


We shift apart, embrace, shift again
as needs must. You will forget me,
Beloved, I know that, and there are
no gods to supplicate. When I return
to the landscape of the story,
it’s to the human figures I turn, as if
through them I might learn to refrain
from what must at root be fear.
To be in a story is a small allowance
of what feels free. To be in a story
is to study the self by forgetting it.
Meanwhile, there’s this daily life
gathering blow-down branches
for kindling; digging the garden,
listening to the river, to the wind,
to the owl; calling back to the owl
as we both sift what is, watching mist
from the sky reflected on the river
as it lifts into actual, open sky. I wait
for the story to continue, if it will.
What remains? There’s a spray of fern
near her foot as Eurydice turns back
into a mist, as she must. Does she see it?
This bit of fern, whose prism of lit dew
as yet clarifies nothing . . .  

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