Orpheus Sequence  
    Garth Greenwell

1. Beloved Field, Sky

A field, the clench of summer, the beloved blossoming
among anemone and adder's tongue.
The sky an echo opening. The field an echo opening

beneath the beloved, who bends--as if the ground were beautiful,
as if to look at the beautiful ground
from which the song flows up, as if to lay herself

where the grasses dance above the body
as it slows itself to sleep, the grasses
like an arch above the flowers folded in.

A shimmering, and the presence gone: field.
The singer left to travel it, footsteps held
in the swallowing soil, fingers loose against the strings

although a humming starts. He could never remember it,
quite: the body already wound, prayers
already spoken, the beloved half-sunk among ephemeral grasses;

and the song that rose from the ground and gathered,
that came upon him like the up-swell of grief,
whispering here; whispering drink.

In Search of a New Object

He was still young; he couldn't observe
the proper continence of grief
any more than he could lay himself upon the fire

that disposed of her, however beautiful the thought.
Instead, he searched out bodies that resembled her least,
with their strange hardnesses, their reluctant

givings-in, their cruel avidity. Whatever else
might happen there, whatever space his soul might fill,
it wasn't hers. Each night he struck upon them

a new country: ramshackle homes,
momentary havens the light would destroy.
But he was never quick enough--

once beauty caught he touched it always
through a film of story,
bodies wrapped in memory like gauze against a burn.

In the silence that followed, in a stillness
that was strange after such motion,
he watched them sleeping, edges strained

against the amorous, obscuring night.
It couldn't matter, what was before him.
Loveliness was always behind.

3.The Song That is So Large Between Us (Eurydice)

If night were many-sided, if it were not
so easily cradled in a palm,
or between a woman's breasts, or within
the rounded passage of your breath

it might resemble what I would show you,
my silver-throated one, my solipsist.

And if the grief-sluiced river were not
a simpler version of song;
if its crossing were taken for my sake,
and suffering something more than the pitch
your verse must try to strike again and again;

if it were not all an excuse for grander music
I would not have whispered, I would not have made you turn
and watch the precious form collapse again to dust.

There are sounds you cannot hold, beloved,
there is a song that is so large between us
its singing splits the body, opens it
beneath the weight of so much syllabling (beloved)--
so much incandescent, so much ruinous music.


When they came, with bits of earth and rock,
and the long, leaf-encrusted poles with which they praised
the revel-throated god, it was like wind
across the level surface of his song, nothing more;

and that first stone, cast almost reluctantly--like bread
into a pigeon flock, both scattering
and drawing in--fell when it struck the circumference
of his song, and rooted where it fell,

sprouting blossoms in whose cups it caught
the revenants of voice. Though they had stopped
their ears with wax, the women paused
before they poured themselves against the circled

company of men, as though they felt the song
with its many mouths upon them, their bodies answering
through different passages than sound.
But motion pressed behind them, it swelled

until a woman, pushed past the hill's edge, began to run,
the others following, fierceness kindled,
fierceness passed between them like a hallowed thing.
The cry before them, falling more quickly,

torn out and flung away, struck against his verse
and bounded back, and struck again.
When the singing was buried beneath it, and the men
divided from their listening, they ran, bolting

from the sound the women made. But he stayed,
watching them come, still seated, still strung
on the darkening longing-thread of song. And when his voice
was cancelled by their stranger music, drowned out,

he sang; and when the stones their cry had cast
tore through his strings, he sang. He held out
his arms, as if to say it wasn't his, this song,
and kept them raised until the earth they carried

covered him and forced them down, and caught
the singing in. But soul, unrooted thing, passed through;
it sank beneath the body to a darker place,
where silence waited, that beloved form.


    ben vedi amai sė come a morte corre
        ogni cosa creata, et quanto a l'alma
            bisogna ir lieva al periglioso varco
                    -Petrarca, Rime Sparse

A cleft of hands, and parting like a mist between them
rivered words. The self beside the self wakes up
to whispers of the body's ruin: furrowings of soil

through which the soul, like something very small
and lost, creeps out. The form beneath it folds itself
around an emptiness, cradles absence like a child

whose cry has doubled back across the darkening water,
echoes spread about it like the coming-on of song.
It was nothing like the stories told, not a river

but a vast and mirrored plain of light, no boat
but the body's weight beneath: longing-corded,
passion-bound, already hollow and misprisioned flesh.

Where palms had folded scraps of prayer, two coins.
On their faces scroll entire histories of loss, points
from which the soul descends, a floating thing, to pierce

the frenzied choruses of light, feel against its dove-winged
back the tightly-woven, melismaed sound. To seek,
in crossing, not deliverance, but anointed blaze: dissolve.

Garth Greenwell is a Literature and Lesbian and Gay Studies major at Purchase College, SUNY. He was recently awarded the 2000 Grolier Poetry Prize.

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