Music Between Strangers
A sycamore grove, and in its limbs
the orchestra played Má vlast, so I saw
boughs bouncing and tuxedo legs
swinging sap-spotted above the splayed
blades of the ground feathered black
in moss, in the sweat of the set sun,
and the players’ faces where moths roosted,
where leaf-points drew water-stripes
on brows and eyelids, their hands
that stirred in pollen like a fog, were masked
by birds’ nests and bows and flaking vines.
That you were last to climb down,
trumpet tied to your back with blue twine,
is the only thing I believe in,
and after you landed, drifting
through a stream, in a mat of orange needles,
you whistled to what light could float
through the leaves’ screen and canopy, diffuse
like tracing tissue, a scrum of benday dots,
and not much at that,
now that more than the concert has ended,
(originally published in the June 2014 issue of Poetry)
from THE SHIP
The letters I have written to the world
while traveling in this boat
contain the same message more often than not
The world is terrifying
and this boat is not much better
but it is better.
by this time it may have been months
those of us in this boat
passed by a site of sacrifice
A column’s capital
tipped from its place
rolled into the river’s water
By all appearances
it is hunting us
Worse than this
the water is talking
I know the back of her hand like the bricks of Rome
but she vanishes into the glutted throng
and when she returns I do not recognize
her or the bricks of her hand, my cathedral.
Her tears you would see on book jackets. The river
floats trade winds to no vector, the commerce
a river must imagine is its heraldic right
skitters for hammocks slung in men and women’s minds.
Hold to the river. The wind’s force does not betray
how destination is cradled in God’s mouth
now frowning now smiling at time’s invisibility
licking the hull of this boat. My cathedral
city knocking against her own ears’ doorbells
has its place and vanishes and I do not recognize.
Have you even married a mountain.
Have you even loved a river or lake
and married it.
we in this substantial
dialogue with creation
or the unassuming vitriol
of a creator’s whimsy
and flashing dance
In exhaustion lives discovery.
And the river resembles exhaustion.
The river ran in iodine
People brandished their blades
in cavalier fashions
Can you bear to see
what will be achieved
after the hour of exhaustion
The river reflects the trees
but the river does not reflect
this boat or we who ride it.
For now, I am, and this river is,
a traveler many times disassembled
that collects itself. When the collection fails
that day will mark the new kingdom
(THE SHIP was published summer 2104 in a fine, handset edition of 80 copies by Digraph Press)
Stephen Sturgeon is the author of Trees of the Twentieth Century (Dark Sky Books, 2011) and THE SHIP (Diagraph Press, 2014).