A Crowd of Wings

10 August 2013
11:51 pm
Edinburgh

T. —

I went to hear my friends sing (and play, and conduct) Handel’s Messiah tonight. It was the highlight of an otherwise invisible day. Sometimes I don’t feel real. Sometimes I just don’t know what it all means. I would say the world is lost on me today, and yet Mark Doty can nail it down exactly:

I heard it, the music
….. that could not exist without us,
………. and I was inconsolable.

*

Lament-Heaven
Mark Doty

What hazed around the branches
….. late in March was white at first,
………. as if a young tree’s ghost

were blazing in the woods,
….. a fluttering around the limbs
………. like shredded sleeves. A week later,

green fountaining,
….. frothing champagne;
………. against the dark of evergreen,

that skyrocket shimmer. I think
….. this is how our deaths would look,
………. seen from a great distance,

if we could stand that far
….. from ourselves: the way birch leaves
………. signal and flash, candling

into green then winking out.
….. You’ve seen lights along the shore
………. move forward and recede,

not knowing if any single one were house
….. or buoy, lamp or reflection:
………. all one fabric. If death’s like that,

if we are continuous,
….. rippling from nothing into being,
………. then why can’t we let ourselves go,

into the world’s shimmering story?
….. Who can become lost in a narrative,
………. if all he can think of is the end?

Only lights in a lapping harbor —
….. nothing to fear — rising again,
………. going out. No,

faster than that

*

like the carnival we saw one night,
….. late, off the freeway on the south shore,
………. countless circuits of light bulbs

hazing through thickening spring fog,
….. the Ferris wheel’s phosphorescent roulette
………. fog-haloed, blazing.

Then letters blinking on —
….. G-H-O-S-T —
………. and the linked cursive of train:

a funhouse locomotive of spirits,
….. passengers on the white air?
………. Our guiding spirit,

spelling out his name and intention
….. through the Ouija’s rainbowed alphabet,
………. isn’t much help. Though death’s

his single subject,
….. he insists there is none,
………. or rather that what awaits us is “home,”

something he’ll say little about.
….. What does he mean —
………. the cloudy parlors of heaven

or the insubstantial stuff of earth:
….. an amusement park alien in its glitter,
………. the mud-fragrant woods, soaked,

tonight, in spring rain,
….. warm and unlikely?
………. He won’t answer.

He says death is peace.
….. I don’t believe a word he spells;
………. I don’t believe the lamenting

stops at the borders of this world
….. or any other. Why give a ghost letters
………. and the twin poles of yes and no;

isn’t everything so shadowed
….. by its own brevity
………. we can barely tell the thing

from its elegy? Strip something
….. of its mortality, and how do you know
………. what’s left to see?

*

In Sing Sing, on a chapel bulletin board,
….. I read a sign someone spent hours letters,
………. the carefully tattoo-on-paper

of a man with all the time
….. in the world to make his point,
………. text ringed around a Maltese cross:

God’s not dead, I can “feel” him
….. all over me.
 In those miles of corridors
………. men move from lock

to lock like canal water,
….. each segment of hallway filling
………. until the sluice gates open

and they pour into the next hall,
….. so much black-and-blue water
………. hurrying towards the shabby visitors’ trailer.

My friend there says
….. it’s hard for him to write
………. because so many men narrate

day and night the endless
….. distracting monologues that keep them
………. real: I am here,

doing this. I don’t know
….. how you could feel anything
………. on your skin in there —

blows maybe, but not divinity.
….. It’s quiet here, I’m free to walk
………. anywhere I want and nothing’s touching me

that I’m certain I’d call endless,
….. though I’d like to tell whoever inked
………. that sign the truth, how last week

I felt this — godliness?–
….. around me, in the enormous church
………. in Copley Square, under the gold-ribbed vault

pierced by figured windows.
….. A girl, twelve maybe, was playing the violin,
………. rapturously, though I suppose for her

it was not trance but discipline
….. that made the music gather and then tumble
………. like water collecting in a fountain,

all hesitation and sudden release.
….. The organist who accompanied
………. would stop her, from time to time,

and together they’d repeat a phrase,
….. and then the music would again seem to fall forward,
………. tumbling snow-melt breaking loose

from the hidden place
….. where it had been contained.
………. She was a black girl,

with large round glasses which she pushed
….. closer to her eyes, each time she paused.
………. I would have lived in that music,

or rather it was as if I had been once
….. the cautious and splendid cascade from the violin.
………. It was the sound that movement

through experience would make,
….. if we could stand far enough away
………. to hear it: lovely, and inconsoling,

each phrase played out
….. into a dense thicket of variations,
………. into its web of meanings, lifted

and reconsidered, articulated
….. into exhaustion, hurried and then stilled,
………. a crowd of wings. I can’t remember

even the melody, which doesn’t matter;
….. there’s nothing to hold
………. but the memory of the sensation

of such moments, canceling out
….. the whine of the self
………. that doesn’t want to be ground down,

answering the little human cry
….. at the heart of the elegy,
………. Oh why aren’t I what I wanted to be,

exempt from history?
….. The music mounts up,
………. assembles its architecture

larger than any of us
….. and doesn’t need you to continue.
………. Do you understand me?

I heard it, the music
….. that could not exist without us,
………. and I was inconsolable.

*

(Sometime soon, this will thaw, and the world will stop being two-dimensional, and I will come back to feeling real again.)

Goodnight,
M

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