(Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1996 ).
All poems copyright Ellen Bryant Voigt. All rights reserved.
All volumes of Ellen Bryant Voigt's poetry are available at the Tulane University Bookstore in the University Center.
Note: Text enclosed in %% should be read as italic.
A FUGUE for Tom Moore, M.D. I. The body, a resonant bowl: the irreducible gist of wood, that memorized the turns of increase and relinquishing: the held silence where formal music will be quarried by the cry of the strings, the cry of the mind, under the rosined bow. 2. The deaf listen with compensatory hands, touching the instrument. Musicians also listen, and speak, with their hands. Such elemental implements. The eye trains on a grid of ink, and the fingers quicken, habitual, learnŽd, to recover the arterial melody. 3. %The long habit of living indisposes us to dying%. In this measured space, a drastic weeping. ______ Music depends on its own diminishing. Like the remembered dead, roused from silence and duplicated, the song heard is sound leaving the ear. ______ Medicine too is a temporal art. Each day, children are rendered into your keeping. And so you take up your instruments to make whole, to make live, what others made. 4. Pure science: the cello in your lap; the firm misleading bodies of your own children in your brother's room. His illness is adult, and lethal. You place the bow and Beethoven turns again from the stern physician to annotate the page; %cantabile%- meaning not birdsong, windsong, wind in the flue, bell, branch, but the human voice, distinct and perishable. And you play for him.
THE GYMNAST I have beaten the blank mat, but the name that tolls from the wide throat of the crowd is %Nadia, Nadia%. Magic is not earned and is not fair. After repeated labor against the body's meat and strict bone, still with each leap or press or stretch or somersault, my flesh in its new attitude mourns like a lover for the ground. And Nadia balances on the dust beside the beam, she takes the shapes of a leaf in slow wind. Others climb after that mark; I will settle for the long hours of practice at her side, my error reconciled in her correction -- mother and sister, midwife, teacher, I am earth, earth, from which her body leapt into the air.
THE APOLOGY Hurt dogs crawl under a bush. A hurt friend circles the house, refusing to look in. He makes a grave commotion in the yard and the jay elevates the clamor of %betrayal, betrayal%, flashing its shiny edges from the pine. You call through the glass. No answer. He's busy with his curses, scuffing up a froth of dandelions -- isn't this what you wanted, your own grievance, that sets the table with one white plate? Water on stones, horses dozing upright in their stalls, the pink of a weak sky -- recalling the tertiary theme of some great work, you cross the grass, moving toward him the way one greets an animal, extending the hand.
LETTER FROM VERMONT In San Francisco, spring was not a season but an interim with rain and a gentle switch in the wind from the sea. The bay on one side, the clean city on the other, we moved in the clutch of friends down the steep steps -- as I pictured you standing half in, half out of water, you glossed the houses, history fixed in each facade, and we received a decoupage of gardens, trees of fuchsia, the queen's erotic earrings, and gardenias, again in trees, the aisle among them redolent and bruised. Does it wear well, that civil promise camouflaging rock? The sea gives, the sea takes back, the waves lick the women's bodies on the beach. What is %human%, and %moral%, if not, rising out of winter's vast denial, this other flowering: a deep release such as overtakes the cloistered animals as the last snow shreds in the dilating pupil of the lake, and birds return to the dull sky their nearly legible music.
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