Kate Sontag
The Lyricist's Hairpins

I find them one night
in an old tweed coat
and think of the woman
from your songs
letting down her hair.
Who knows how long
they've been there
or where you were walking
when she handed them to you
or why she felt a sudden
desire to take them out.
Perhaps it was the wind
or some version she had
of herself arm in arm
with you and improvising
words for your newest refrain.

And who will hear me singing these
when I put your coat on
and head toward the Hudson?
Who will know when I put my hands
in the pockets what I've found?
And will she care
if I throw them in the river
or clip back my hair? They

remind me of the chignon
my mother used to wear.
In her first wedding album
she looks as if she'd stood
for hours combing back
strand after painstaking strand
though I remember times she'd do it
with a few fast sweeps of her hands
like the deft abracadabra
of her one Debussy passage
ascending then descending
our piano. And if I set them

down among ebony rows
of sharps and flats
at the back of my mind
where an absent woman's lyrics
lilt rhythmically in calligraphy
between notated staves,
a tiered chocolate cake melts
by the window long after
your guests have been sent home,
and each weekend you leave
more clothes on my hangers
like someone slowly
moving in, who will know
I'm composing this shiny black
list of erotica for you to find,
or that I keep imagining her
putting them back in
pin by pin, then taking
them out again, trying to decide
which she prefers.