Friday, March 11, 2016

Marcello's Lament

Marcello's Lament

(For Robert Pesich)

"To the ancient Egyptians, these stars (of Orion's Belt) were the resting place of the soul of Osiris, god of the underworld and a symbol of creativity and the continuity of life…"
            --National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky

Starving tenor finds the stone on a
black sand beach covered in driftwood

(If I said the wood was white as bones
I would be giving it away)

He kneels on the sand
where the ocean comes through the rocks and
reaches into the ribs of a burnt-out cello
plowing a pyramid of blackened chars
until he fingers the edges of its mineral heart and
pulls it into the sun

(If I said it was as red as Betelgeuse
I would be lying)

The stone is a jealous stone
it takes away his lovers
takes away his sleep
leaves his pockets thin and sallow

She is
Musetta, the woman you cannot have
but if you hold her to your ear
she will sing you bright waltzes
and turn her lollipop eyes at you across the café

But the song and the glance are not enough
so Marcello takes the stone and grinds it up
spreads it across his Sunday salad

(If I said the dressing was Roquefort
I would be saying too much)

The fragments trunkle their way through his veins and
gather at the aorta, pressing
northward to make his heart skip
on nights when Artemis neglects her duty and
mountainside lanterns
burst like meteors through the Paris streets

Years after Mimi's last breath
he comes back to the sea to
bare his skin to the inkwell sky and
wait for Orion's Belt to burn him down
leaving a coal as red as Betelgeuse
for the timpani waves to steam away

Notes: A dear friend, an opera singer, says this is the ultimate description of the artistic life. She's biased, of course, this being taken from La Boheme, but it has proven to be deadly accurate in the years since I wrote it. An early editor couldn't get over the literal visual of "toss her lollipop eyes at you across the cafe," so it became "turned." And it's ironic that I would choose Marcello over Rodolfo, since he and I are both poet tenors, but I always considered Rodolfo a poser. Marcello is pure artist, and this is likely the best poem I will ever write.

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