The Orpheus Variations
1. In Which He Turns With Intent When we were almost out, all I could think Was they can’t really let me take her— Can they? And when I heard The rasp of her shade on a fern near the cave mouth, I knew she was still there, I had to turn, I knew I couldn’t bring her back, Because it wasn’t her But grief that I loved with such passion that kingdoms Were moved by its sad music. Should the source Prove hollow, then the music must. And if I now shun women, It’s not for Eurydice’s sake, but for theirs. 2. In Which He Turns Inward Somewhere in the night a woman Carried a burden into the lake. I remember the snow settling Like sleep. Cars turning onto the shore road Must have thrown her ropes of light. And the radio in her apartment Clearing its throat for days, her phone Ringing, the sun gleaming elaborately On the cold white skin of the city. When they came for her things, Their narrow voices widened Like the pupils of trapped animals. Of all the tricks of memory, the cruelest Is accuracy. In the empty street below, A limo passes, bass notes pulsing, the rest Of its song lost. As clouds of exhaust Rise toward halogen moons, I hear The door that’s always gently clicking Shut behind me, and I find myself Climbing, again, my incomplete notion Of her skirt-covered thighs, uncovering All the lies I should have told her. 3. In Which He Never Turns Emerging, my flesh firming again, I gasped Like a fish in the scalding air. I touched my face And blinked until the wall of light gave way To shapes: a tree, and beside the tree a man, Kneeling and weeping. Then the words returned: Weeping and man and tree. And like a tide Flowing back to a marsh across cracked mud, My thick blood moved again. My ankle hurt... His music, for a time, was a light thing Balancing the exhausting gravity of flesh. But sadness always was his heart’s true song, And one day, after a flimsy argument, His flat I wish I’d never come for you Brushed past my own I wish you’d never too. 4. In Which He Turns, Afterward, to a Young Man The past—that’s where you’ll find your paradise. Why look here? Or think now about the cost? I found my own in what I thought was hell, But only after I, alone, had crossed Back. Whatever lies before you now Won’t have been paradise until it’s lost. 5. In Which He Turns Away from Himself He heard her brush against a fern, And though he didn’t mean to turn, He turned; she vanished into mist. Clutching at air, he woke and found her, Breathing, beside him in their bed. He felt as though he’d risen from Deep water, heart thrashing the tight Drums of his lungs, into this air That tasted of salt and absolution. He slipped soundlessly from their bed, Walked down the hall, past the glossy (Framed like some ancestral portrait) Of him on stage with his old band, Into the kitchen, where he brewed A pot of coffee, took two cups From the cabinet, and brought them back To the dark room, their tails of vapor Rising and curling quickly away.