Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2022  Vol. 21  No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Of Gut & Gold

My harp is weary heavy
& I can hardly move
it on my own, even now
I’m grown & gone
far from what my father calls
his Canaan. He strums
what strings he can from time
to time, sounds out “Joy
of Man’s Desiring” despite
the fact six strings have
snapped & middle C has
fallen to B. It happened before
I knew it, this learning
to play an hour’s worth
of minuets, what made him
say, “You’re the show
horse & I’m just the work one.”
He traded a stand of trees
for what he knew I’d teach
myself. It’s easy to replay
the scene in which I play
the harp he says I’ll own
someday, my sister’s bow see-
sawing over her violin,
our mother on the upright,
& him so near the fire
he’d built, his fingers
laced, eyes closed tight, torso
rocking like the wand
of a metronome. Maybe
what I wanted was to teach
him a note could still
be new, be worth
a forest trucked to Boise—
but I’ve never won
that argument with God
& it took ten years to know
just what he’d done. None
but my harp teacher
could tell you now the tale
wherein a girl is given
a harp with forty strings of gut
& one of gold. Her father in
the story’s always dying
of some mythic sickness
you can only deem a curse, hands
wilting on dwindled wrists, teeth
crumbling from gums
like bits of gypsum. Each time
she made that gold string sing,
her father’s youth would move
a little closer. Even the wrecked
tunnel of his throat revived
its ballads & his hands
unfurled like lilies dropped
in tea. In the end, she traded one
wellness for another,
grew ancient as her father
grew new. I imagined he lacked
a music of his own, thought
he couldn’t read
the language Mozart spoke,
as if that daughter could have
said a thing to heaven & been heard
just because she’d taken up
her psalmodies so young. I didn’t
yet know he had a secret
music, my father, strange
tongue planted
where I couldn’t go. I heard him speak it
first to the man who helped him
cut down trees. Ayúdeme,
he called, as if I’d never learn
the song of something falling into use.  

Devon Walker-Figueroa, “Of Gut & Gold” from Philomath: Poems. Copyright © 2021 by Devon Walker-Figueroa. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Milkweed Editions.

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