He foresees this. Yet he will go on . . .—Margaret Atwood
i. Aristaeus / Orpheus
The city gave me a new voice, turned meto Orpheus. Broken up, broken off, this song
is his song, coarsened. I sing it here: the needto possess anything beautiful. My roots set
on the farm, transplanted into this city, my future
figured in each small desire, the pull of soil . . .She loved these pieces of me, sure, but I kept
pulling apart, one note at a time. Never trainedto hear the subtle mysteries of music, raised
by hunters, I found the give and take of a line
in a tractor’s passes, the left-to-right shapingof a bale of hay. These lines are a boxed hum,
a scrape of cow tongues on the trough bottom,the sling and pop of an afternoon shooting skeet.
My parents, so bright, soon passed me off
to other masters, who taught me hunger. Nothingin me holds together—my failed loves all
take on my voice. No, these tone-deaf songswon’t bring her back. I have my sins to pay for. [End Page 193]
All of us is mine: any songyou can sing is with my voice. I was both
her lover and a stranger—and why not?One so consumed making music to move gods
forgets to see the world, doesn’t noticeas the morning light silhouettes the curves
of a body, igniting its tiny hairs, losesthe feeling of home, no difference
in a sunset through the impediments of a cityor over the farm’s fields . . . She started
to hear another voice in me, behind my song,and she ran away. How else could this story end?
Tonight I pace these streets and stare atthe city’s blank sides, my hope taking rhythm
like a river thrumming underground, found musicthat she would hear and come back to me.
I am the currentthat licks the rocks clean,a gentle eddyof leaves, the gurgleof foam glitteringunder a mossy bank.I am flux,my water into water,my flesh to root,xylem and phloemto raise me upand let me fall,leaf to river,river to sea.You sing meyour saddest song, [End Page 194]
the old notesechoing acrossthis dark river,but there’s no endto this rushing,no openingthe pools of my ears,no way for you to leadthe multitude of meout of this wateronly that you’dscatter your bodyto join mein my dream.
Not a river onlybut a sea.Midnight light,winter rain.Flotsam landedon shifting tide lines.I become thisebb and flowto dredge and cast upthe body of the earth,breaking and siftingits ancient bones.So the timelessperfects the shoresof the living.So I lingerin these darkrhythms, pulledbetween forcesyou cannot feel,resettled in the linesof driftwoodon this shore, wideningin the open jawsof the sea. [End Page 195]
T. J. McLemore’s poems have appeared in 32 Poems, Crazyhorse, Massachusetts Review, Willow Springs, and other journals. Individual poems have been featured on Poetry Daily, selected for Best New Poets 2018, and nominated for a Pushcart, and he has received awards and fellowships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Boston University, and Crab Orchard Review. He is a doctoral student in English literature and environmental humanities at the University of Colorado Boulder.