Friday, January 11, 2008

An Old Man's Thoughts At Night

It must be the fever, which
for days has plucked my nerves
like fiddle strings, tuning me up
for a concert I don’t want to hear.
I’m not well. My mind is going.
The ghosts make too much noise.
Not that I mind them. I don’t, really;
they’re friendly enough, even jovial,
farmers, who Bruegeled this place
together without square corner
or plumb jamb; they must be shocked
to see it still standing here,
though now additions hold it up.
In any case, they seem content.
One of them, who seems to be
the patriarch, judging by
his bird’s nest beard and the torn
hammer loop in his overalls,
has picked me for his special friend.
He follows me from room to room,
his purpose not exactly clear.
He has a sense of humor, though.
When we meet on the stairs he cuts
a little caper, a quick shuffle,
grins like a goat, invites me to dance,
the dead grandfather of mirth.
At first I was a bit put out,
but now I just ignore him, walk
right through him without a word,
without a look, just as if
he weren’t really there at all.
But the little girl upstairs is quite
another thing, with wide, appraising
Great Depression eyes, wearing
a dress sewn from flour sacking,
clutching a tattered ragdoll
with button eyes bigger than hers,
eyes they both seem to use.
Influenza took her in ‘33.
I’m sleeping in her room, I think,
which must be why I wake to find
them standing there, sober, mute,
at the foot of the bed, studying me
like sputum on a glass slide,
wondering, I suppose, why
I still live. I don’t know
what to tell her about that,
what excuses would suffice.
I confess she unsettled me at first,
but I’m accustomed to her now,
even that spooky doll; I’d miss them
were they gone, all of them.
Now it’s really just the music
has me out on a limb,
a constant crescendo and diminuendo
of high, keening minor chords,
the swell and sigh of almost silence,
like a fitful autumn wind
across a dusty violin.
The music, if it is music,
seems to call, to intimate
that things are really not so bad
over there, all considered,
not so dead as one would think.
Just one big happy family;
rosin up for the Devil’s Trill.
All welcome to the ball.
I find I’m terrified at such
a meddlesome eternity,
fussily embroidered with
such insinuating music,
or, God forbid, the witless joy
of cloth-eared angels perched
forever on their cotton fluff,
swiping harp glissandi through
the bright, endless afternoon
of paradise. Truly, a hell
more than worthy of the name.
No. Death is kinder than that.
Death is only a beautiful quiet,
a silence so profound we forget
to listen to the winnowing wind,
the world’s flat, persistent prattle,
its busy contradictions, ghosts.


Debi said...

Breathtaking, John.

Though not literally. Not this time ...

Minx said...

Cloth eared angels, eh? Truly a hell of sorts. Best stay this side of the fence for a while then, Carver.

Glad you're back as well. You are, aren't you? Or are you just a ghost in the machine?