Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Song for a Severed Head

 . . . but by the time we neared the top,
I couldn’t help it and looked back and saw
she wasn’t there. Neither was Hermes,
who had said that things worth reaching for
lie always past our reach, that I should try
to bring her back precisely because I would fail.
Only the outer swamps remained, asimmer with leeches,
only trash heaps and a poison fog roiling the air.
And then those others, mad I didn’t love them
with the whole black river of my voice, tore me to pieces,
seeking vengeance maybe for the bruise of beauty.
And my head fell to the river,
where the hollowness of all my thoughts keeps me
afloat. A mad slur gurgling the foam.
Sometimes the rapids hurry down. Sometimes
they level off and show the stars. I float past
towns and ranches, steel mills, silos,
children shrieking, women washing clothes
or mending nets, men hauling scythes back from
a steaming field, doors with nothing
behind them, stairs in the middle of fields
leading nowhere, abandoned cellars where
the moon performs divine ablutions in dark pools.
At night strange fish rise up and suck the air.
Sometimes the glow of cities crowns the hills.
Cows drinking jerk back wide-eyed as I pass,
and then bend down again to brew
their future meals. No one can hear me,
so I sing, not songs so much as
wild delinquencies of sound, and small, since
now each breath falls down, into the dark
ongoing growl of the foam. The world remains
indifferent to my songs, and yet, from this indifference
grows new power, strength past speech,
a magnitude ungraspable, a sound that grows
into its contours and enlarges the circumference
of all breath, all breathable air.
How can one live but in the record of one’s loss,
its slow waves lapping at whatever
manages to stay unchanged?
My head is here, but I am never where I am.
I live somewhere beyond, a strewn perfection
of which this, the speaking piece, is only one piece,
but implies the whole. The shape
of what forever now their ears will be without.
Already these woods change.
Already I taste salt, some new more vital current,
heavy water surging in, the tang of endlessness
tinging the wind, taking me down to mist, gray light,
high breakers, murky islands, barking seals,
a boundless gray, back out of night,
into infinity. I smile madly
at the sad bright squalor of the world,
the brooding havoc in the clouds, knowing that where
I land, whatever shore, no wanderer will come.
No one will find me, but my songs will last.
Hummed by the trees, locked inside stones . . .  

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