December 2012 - Comments Off

Elegy for a Boy Singing Sacred Harp

Sam Mayer '13

after Rilke
And if I sang who would hear me? No one, not on
heaven and not on earth. And certainly not you,
next to me though you are, and pushing out notes
eyes fixed ahead and staring at the leader, not me. You say
you love this song; no, you grin and I wonder if you love
this song. If only I could find something pure, something contained:
To hear just one voice, and not hundreds
raised all together and raised in four. Because
what’s the point in trying to love when beauty requires
four voices? I am sorry that I met you; I am sorry that
I sat next to you; I am sorry that we sang together
and sang the same part. I am terrified of you
with your mouth open, surrounded
by the Old People. Those mouths: who are
smacking dentures spitting bits of food and wet
breath. Lovers, satisfied with each other, where are you
and how did your voice escape the body
and mingle only with the beloved? When I open my
mouth what I am escapes me and becomes part
steam part harmony, not part of him. What's it like to
feel your entire selfhood mix with another, and
does it feel good? Or does it feel too confusing, all
that sound together in the same room? Worry that
your voice will find too many others and then have to rise together.
Worry that understanding can only come from the
spittle of four different parts. If, to be understood,
lovers might sing something marvelous I only
pray that our breath will be a marvel to look at,
as it rises up towards the rafters towards death.
The Old People all have one foot in the grave. They read
the shape notes and stare into the space between heads,
that quivers and burns and reminds them of death.
You can see it in their faces, and falling
like dew on new grass: that wetness from
the cosmos that will burn away but not scorch.
Newness does not last very long. I know that
in your voice, there might grow boredom. Oh, the heart that pines
and blisters and loves and lusts, mostly lusts, but
not towards anything just towards space. But lust, lust vanishes:
in our voices. Sure, we breathe and that is great
but what about ruffling hair? What about itching?
Is the sum of our lust to be defined by our
voices? Because that is bullshit, and I do not
want to spend my life singing with what’s-his-name
and calling that sex. Who are the lucky ones?
The fortunate ones? Creation’s darlings? They are
the ones who have never sang, never thought about
a sole voice as incomplete, they are the ones
who only go about their day: buy coffee and
pick up flowers and clip toenails and are
never once concerned that in the space of silence lies
no meaning. They are unconcerned, these angels,
divine beings who slouch their way through
the mire to enlightenment. They are the ones who
walk by the church while we fill it with voices and
do not even stop to wonder about music, it
never even occurs to them to give it a moments
thought. I am lust with you, and your voice, and
our voices together, and our bodies together, and
these songs in our throats. I am in love with angels,
though every angel’s silence terrifies me.

Published by: in Poetry, Volume 69: Issue 1

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