Hard words endure, but more
and more they sift and separate
like vapor into clouds of images—
sunlight on a handsbreadth purl
in the midst of a rocky trickle
a boy could bestride, a broken
hay baler slowly becoming
part of a weedy hill, the scratch
and knock of a head of orchard grass
at the wide crack between two boards
in the wall of a corncrib—
that stay when the words are gone.
AT THE THURSDAY NIGHT JAM, REMEMBERING AN ABSENT SINGER
W. R. B., 1915-1995
Suppose he held some notes the rest of us
never quite caught, exactly, for all his singing,
the old LPs, sheet music by the ream,
the plunder of an aging amateur;
still, every now and then he nailed it hard:
a bar or two would ride the stricken air
and lift us to a treasured patch of grief.
A mountain's shadow at sunup, sliding down
a slope on its western side, the small clear gap
above a smokestack before the vapor clouds,
could hold us weightless in a mellow tone.
Some couples, when they dance, are dancing now
and dancing years ago, lifetimes honed to this.
Musicians, watching, lean closer together
and work a little tighter, thinking back
to their own favorite brush with faultlessness.
On a salt-specked wharf one August, late sunlight
was ricocheting off the brass and wood
and acrobatic fingers over keys;
the music rose so far into the world
that even deadpan gulls swayed as it swayed,
and we were all just lucky so-and-sos.
On certain evenings since his last sweet session
the troubles on our minds make way for songs
it's hard to hear in any voice but his,
and now, as dusk leans in and lights come on,
an old friend starts to tune an upright bass,
a muted trumpet tests the atmosphere.
Now retired and living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Henry Taylor taught at Roanoke College, The University of Utah, and American University. With Ed Tedeschi, a student, he co-founded this magazine in 1967. Among his six books of poems is The Flying Change, which received the 1986 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.