If Orpheus Had Played the Sax

For Greg Johnson

When the coal train jumped its track
the engine’s indifference to the engineer
destroyed his home and family
and sent him searching underground
Roots absorbed dark crude
Trees sloughed their skins
walking dead upright, blight rising as through a derrick
The banks of rivers grew slick with disgust
He heard the deep undertone of the snake moan
guts twisting, black tongue
swollen in its throat
The world, he thought, must be ending

He watched his flesh and bones, stripped of its culture,
carried off in chains on slave ships, his joy entangled
with mirage dissolving in a heat wave
The first faint reckoning of a far-off tsunami
climbed onto the rocks like a lungfish barely breathing
its knotted internal rasp
absorbed into lynchings and crowns of barbed-wire
He picked up his roots and followed the echoes
to where the edge lost its meaning
where the veil between night and day
sleeping and waking
living and dead, grew as faint
as the light between beast and shadow
He was a broken radio that lost its music
full of static, twisted with wires and loose connections
ribs knocking together like vacuum tubes
At the edge where he lost his edge
he tuned his receiver to pick up the echoes
and was answered by another world
He turned down the volume of his speech
and from that day forward there came
this unlikely music
from an instrument that growled
aggressively, hot and hard, steeped
in the blood of his heart
striking away all chains

Look for him first through the body
riding a sound wave just under the skin
He has always been there
keeping the beat
From the firepit of a forgotten cave
that hasn’t seen a torch for a thousand years
something from nothing is born
but not without a price
knocking down the silence
throwing the moon out of its orbit
like a ghost passing through stone walls
flickering alive with shamanic bison and bear
through the mouth of time to tumble
into a smoke-filled speak-easy
finding the hot-spot on stage
where smoke rings blow through his axe
after every trespass and stolen kiss
runs the gauntlet between sense and sensation
just long enough to grant the wild traffic right of way
long enough to stop time in nine different dimensions
to still the supersonic bomber, bomb bay open,
from dropping its bombs, dangling from
its jetstream, arrested while breaking
the sound barrier

 

 

David Memmott

About David Memmott

David Memmott has published five books of poetry, a novel and a story collection. His poem, “Where the Yellow Brick Road Turns West,” was a finalist for the 2010 Spur Award from Western Writers of America. The Larger Earth: Descending Notes of a Grounded Astronaut was selected as one of 150 best poetry books for 150 years of Oregon statehood by Poetry Northwest and Oregon State Library. He is a Fishtrap Fellow, a recent Playa resident and recipient of three Fellowships for Publishing from Literary Arts, Inc., for his work as editor and publisher of Wordcraft of Oregon, LLC (www.wordcraftoforegon.com). He completed a new novel, Canned Tuna, in January, and is currently looking for a publisher. He is also managing editor of Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism. He lives in La Grande, Oregon, with his wife, Sue, and two yellow labs.
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