Someone or other stood whose features were
Rainer Maria Rilke, Orpheus, Euridike, Hermes.
First he felt a snap in the taut hemp strings,
sensed frayed edges, a phantom limb,
then he watched the carved frame
flex and soften like a cat’s spine.
Tingling in the fingers of his left hand,
his plectrum nails cracking and underneath,
licking the tender nailbeds, green tendrils.
Tetany in his left arm, in the muscle
so purely sculpted to its purpose.
Lyre-buds shooting beneath the skin.
Before he understood the boundary.
His hand on his face. The smooth skin erupts,
ridges of bark, whorls and wood knots.
His legs grow sluggish, exhaled breath turns cold.
In place of blood, pale fluid flows.
He is already root.
Now the lyre prevails. She, whose body,
coaxed at his command,
ransomed the Argonauts, turns back
to a tree and moulds the man.
Loosened like a bolt of linen or a sail
that shoulders the wind, the lyre exults.
In gentlest caress, she circles the strong neck
from which came songs which redefined lament.
He tries to call out, gags.
Green fingers trace the memory of a cry.
She sings of suffering and of war.
Of Troy, where scent of olive wood and pine
can’t suppress a stench which lingers
on the funeral pyre at dawn.
She sings of a boy’s corpse in a field outside Belfast;
his blood waters the wild thyme, his knees are shattered bone.
She sings of Beslan where Chechnya’s war distils
to plastic water bottles in a blackened school hall
and of a white iris on the banks of the Euphrates
which flares crimson as Fallujah burns.
She sings of Gaza; ruined shoots that were its children,
its thirsting clay.
Stars shift in their constellations,
winds still as the turbulent music swells.
Earth through the song of the lyre,
mourns her disfigurements.
His face sets. Wood rings encase his ears
but leave them clear.
In the deep rock pool of his eyes
something gleams, plant sap or dew.
He stands before the shining exit gates,
unable ever not to hear
the footsteps walking away,
the long dress trailing, unable ever not to see.