I’m looking out the window for the promised
meteor shower, rain of fire the heavens release,
while my thumb walks a dry pattern
on the brasswound top strings of the guitar;
wood’s vibration against the bone
above my heart reminds me man’s first instrument
was probably the drum. This room, hollow
as a drum, trembles with the small beat
of my foot on the floor. If
this was a different night, if I could see
these grains of burning stone, I might
give each one the name of someone departed.
But the cold sky stays bare, the dead
fade into the carved letters of their names.
And if I stand here long enough, I’ll begin
to lament deaths that have not happened yet.
There is no end to elegies. And they are all
the same elegy: Milton keening for lost Lycidias,
Shelley fighting his tears for Adonais, the blind reverend
Gary Davis singing “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,”
a song I can’t find in the slur my fingers rake
from these strings. When Gary Davis played guitar,
one thumb held a heart-steady rhythm
while his fingers danced out notes bright and uncatchable
as stars, the way that other blind singer, Milton,
crafted lush Edens with his tongue, versions of paradise
that stay although the tongue that brandished them
has gone to soil. Years after Gary Davis’s death,
I can listen to him sing of salvation and lust.
I can hope for meteors. I can hope
we go on forever, like music or fire,
outlasting even the grim tolling
of elegy and our own burning skin.
Al Maginnes has appeared in numerous publications, including The Georgia Review, Quarterly West, Bellingham Review, Crab Orchard Review, Mid-American Review, New England Review, New Orleans Review, Shenandoah, Green Mountains Review, Poem, Southern Poetry Review, Texas Review, and Two Rivers Review. He has published two volumes of poetry, Taking Up Our Daily Tools (St. Andrews College Press, 1997) and The Light in Our Houses (Pleaides Press, 2000). He teaches at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, NC.