November hymnal (21)
Late at night, the moon starting over.
Down the stairs the piano shines quietly
Under a stained glass lampshade.
Where leaves and boughs are a single shape
Connecting the trunks which disappear into darkness.
Like music is a single sealed vessel
Coming through the clouds the moon plays its phrase
in a lost key descending the sky’s scales.
Every season is within it: fruit, seed, husk, flower
Forgotten. In the dark mirror on the piano
Beyond the owl’s shadow the edges of sheet
Music shine. Starting over, before I unsnap
The accordion of thanksgiving, I’ll sleep.
Suddenly awake, writing in the dark, an hour
Before dawn this Thanksgiving.
The air outside as brittle as the century-old window
Above my bed. Out there light has receded into the stars
Like a dream catapulted away by waking
To a place you will never reach again
Though you were there, so far away,
Just moments ago, and were sure you awoke
Yourself to write down something about it
As quickly as possible, which is why you are
Writing in the dark, suddenly wide awake
And with a mind as blank as a black window.
Outside, stars have settled in the empty branches
Across the street. Pausing on their migration
To someplace warmer. A handful of others glow
On the ground, and I could be led to believe
They are really the brightly burning spirits
Of this world instead of street lights.
Up high, at the top of the window
NOTE: It was about this time last year that I found out that an old friend of mine from college, Peter Liotta, had died in a car accident a year earlier. I knew Peter way back over two decades ago, when I was a senior at Cornell and he was an older grad student–already married and in his mid- or late-twenties–in the MFA program. I had printed a pamphlet of one of Peter’s poems, and we kept in touch for a few years as I went into bookselling and he published the wonderful Learning to Fly, as well as a book of poems and a novel. Picking up those books, and a newer title called The Graveyard of Fallen Monuments from 2007, I could discern Peter’s distinctive old-soul voice as clear as a bell. For awhile that voice remained with me in a particularly strong way, and I awoke in the dark of a Thanksgiving morning thinking on these things, and the result was this poem. //JSS
The brightest, most distant ones sit.
Long dead, probably. Living in the moment’s
At its most relative when the moment’s brightest
Nick in the blackness is millions of years extinguished.
Living in the moment, I understand, can be
Living in the light of a source long gone,
In the words of a life ended in fire.
It is more than not forgetting; This light from the past,
your voice, these words—I will take it, I will demand it.