An Octave Above Thunder, by Carol Muske-Dukes

… reverberation

                              Of thunder of spring over distant mountains

                              He who was living is now dead

                              We who were living are now dying

                              With a little patience.

 

–T. S. Eliot,

“What the Thunder Said”

 

1

 

She began as we huddled, six of us,

in the cellar, raising her voice above

those towering syllables…

 

Never mind she cried when storm candles

flickered, glass shattered upstairs.

Reciting as if on horseback,

she whipped the meter,

 

trampling rhyme, reining in the reins

of the air with her left hand as she

stood, the washing machine behind her

stunned on its haunches, not spinning.

 

She spun the lines around each other,

her gaze fixed. I knew she’d silenced

a cacophony of distractions in her head,

to summon what she owned, rote-bright:

 

Of man’s first disobedience,

                                        and the fruit…

                              of the flower in a crannied wall

                              and one clear call…

 

for the child who’d risen before school assemblies:

eerie Dakota rumble that rolled yet never brought

rain breaking over the podium. Her voice rose,

an octave above thunder:

 

When I consider how my light is spent–

I thought of her light, poured willy-nilly.

in this dark world and wide: half-blind, blind,

a widening distraction Getting and spending

 we lay waste our powers…Different poem, a trick!

 

Her eyes singled me out as the wind slowed.

Then, reflective, I’d rather be / a Pagan

 sucked in a creed outworn / than a dullard

                         with nothing by heart.

 

It was midsummer, Minnesota. In the sky,

the Blind Poet blew sideways, his cape spilling

rain. They also serve! she sang, hailing

closure

 

as I stopped hearing her. I did not want to

stand and wait. I loathed nothing so much

as the forbearance now in her voice,

insisting that Beauty was at hand,

 

but not credible. I considered

how we twisted into ourselves to live.

When the storm stopped, I sat still,

listening.

 

Here were the words of the Blind Poet–

crumpled like wash for the line, to be

dried, pressed flat. Upstairs, someone called

my name. What sense would it ever

 

make to them, the unread world, the getters and spenders,

if they could not hear what I heard,

not feel what I felt

nothing ruined poetry, a voice revived it,

extremity.

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