I require of you the fat man, the farter, the spastic drooling on her sleeve.
Come, chain-smokers. Bring the deaf boy and his grandfather.
Where is the man with the artificial voice box? I need him now.
Have so few rappers come? Call them. Get them here.
Assemble the children and their cats and dogs.
I want the lisper in this section on my right.
Call the nurses at the nursing homes to wheel the bedridden in.
I need the coughers and the burpers right here beside the shrill old ladies.
Run to the door one last time. Call people from the street.
Any who come are fit to stay. The hour is upon us.
The drunks in the back row have already begun their ruckus.
The yodlers and the karaoke enthusiasts can hardly contain themselves.
This is the Gloria Patri. If you can sing, sing.
If you can only croak, croak like you’ve never croaked before.
May I never lose my place
in a sprawling symphony,
or fling my baton in a cellist’s face
when I get carried away. May funny
gestures look like genius. Please,
let eyes be lifted up to me
from time to time, to ease
my sense of being unnecessary.
Don’t let me fall off my dais.
May multiple movements
hold together as a piece. Let long
performances end in silence
then applause. But more
than all of these, just let there
be music when I move,
even if the movement’s wrong.
I picked up the guitar
for a week and a day.
I didn’t get very far.
But I learned to play
a few songs softly,
in my own halting way.
I didn’t want anything grand
—a simple tune I could carry,
something ready to hand,
beautiful, but not very.
The Old Preacher Prays
There are few words
left sufficient to this world.
Darkness among the meadowed hills
and light along the rock-strewn ridge
are expressive in my mind as words
can no longer be. When I want to pray,
I peer after a thunderstorm
through hung fog into the sun—
I go looking for the means afforded:
oaks and asphalt and sunken creekbeds…
I watch the world, and You hear.
Beneath the shroud of my fear
you’d enter into my night
when sleep was distant as the stars
and all comfort fell
like a meteor through the dark
and disappeared. You’d enter
singing and picking the guitar
you bought for almost nothing in Vietnam.
How did you learn songs to call the dawn,
train your voice to summon the nearest star?
Who taught you to play peace-invoking tunes
on a worn-out war-time guitar?
If I dared, I’d play now for you,
meet you in the dark
to recall to you our home
waiting beyond mourning
like Ithaca over the sea.
But I know no song to sing.
Your night I can’t navigate,
where constellations can’t cohere.
Your night I can’t know.
I know only the distance of the stars,
the speed of a meteor to die.
In the onrush of your evening
this is the song I sing.
Nothing else I have to call out in the night,
to softly herald dawn.