They finished each other’s sentences with their own jokes,
these girls with uniform skirts as short as regulation allowed,
and braided one another’s hair offstage. They spoke lightly
and bounced across the room with weightlessness forgotten
to their director’s tightened eyes. He handled it well, guiding
them to the right places, offering up the rest of a line when
a speaker faltered, and she’d nod at once and carry right on
as if nothing had happened. As if it were a game, they laughed
at tripping, or forgetting the motions; how they laughed like
their speech, like air, like nothing could touch them.
Even the one who knocked her arm on the edge of the set piece,
a sharp wooden table, laughed and shrugged it off as I winced
for her from the side of the stage. Their rehearsal lasted a
couple of hours as it crawled on for me, who stood a head taller
than most of them, eyes tight like their teacher’s. I’d only come
to visit my girlfriend, the most beautiful (I thought) of them
after a glance, but that glance revealed to me my error.
I’d never seen her with her friends her age, or dreamt
that she could leap on light as with them. Every mark I’d left
revealed the steps she’d taken into a world in which I’d long
called home, the distance I’d dragged her out of the air,
as each kiss solidified her transformation. When we gazed
in one another’s eyes, her own clouded with desire, her voice
darkened when we spoke. When we touched, it bruised.
the one who shares his bed with me
whispers German in his sleep,
and first it startled me awake—
but now reminds me of my father
reading aloud from his torn-up
German Bible; while cleaning house,
they all turn up the TV
and sing at the top of their lungs
like my sisters; sometimes
they sit around the piano
and play the tunes on the radio
like when I drove the streets
of my old home for the last time,
the songs my brother strummed
on his guitar though perhaps
he still does; and the one who shares
his bed with me doesn’t raise his voice
like my mother when he lectures,
and he tells me
that he loves me before we hang up
the phone like they all did;
even the door squeaking open
when he comes home from work,
and soon after the cork popping
out of the wine bottle;
even the glass shattering
on the floor after too many
and our hands can’t grasp
the edges any longer;
even the muttered threats—
“You will not leave, you must not—”
Purple dahlias still bloom to the left of the library
every year. Their blossoms encircle the statue of Jesus
washing the feet of His disciples. Visiting families pause
with their cameras to snap a photo of the scene,
almost too perfect with its flowery frame.
The Son of God has raised His head to gaze at Peter
as He stoops by Judas’ feet. To think that Peter,
in his awe, cannot know yet of Judas’ betrayal;
and still he stares down with narrowed eyes,
arms folded across his chest, demanding explanation.
To think that Jesus knows—
He must almost taste the blood in His mouth,
smell the vinegar at His lips, feel the nails splitting
skin and bone. That night, he sweats blood
as He speaks of it with His father.
His hands surround Judas’ feet as though they are
the most precious creation He could hold.
Sometimes students here will sit on the bench
a few feet from these statues, brows furrowed
like Peter’s, sharing his skeptical gaze.
as teeth grasp
my lower lip
it alarms me
how loudly I swallow
you satisfy the silence
with hurried pulses of my heart
and the certainty of yours
Each day I go into the chapel
to practice my music and discover
what more I must learn. The result
is always the same: I leave
with more to practice and more to learn.
Stooping over the keys on a wooden bench
till my back aches and eyes cannot focus
on the pages—all my practice intensifies
the need to return the next day.
I have started a work that will not end.
But I don’t complain—except to passers-by
who ask me why I walk up the steps
to the great organ again. They would not
understand if I laughed, or reached
to lift the music books and held them
to my chest, or told them it that
is their pain I labor to relieve.
A musician knows how to pretend.
A musician knows how to be patient.
Each day I go into the chapel.