Sheila Black
This Slow Ache Within Music
(for Billy Bang)

By the tenement window    the blue light thick
        as spider silk     Billy is playing again
for me     the violin's wretched sobbing     the whine
        that breaks into high curved glass
rise on the window sill     glasses of water tainted
        with his blood cigarettes burning away in
his fingers. This is a lullabye     this is a medicine for
        sleep. Outside in the hall     a dreamer walks down
the stairs     the backs of other people are menacing
        the puddle turns to an eye. God watches everywhere,
written in us     shame and grief     and the perfect
        note which swells and rises over the dumpsters
and streetlights     over the cracked bottles and the
        cracked pipe where the children sell Montana
and Danger. Billy plays for me     the bone at the
        center of this ache     where the cells keep
circling and multiplying     white plates red suns     we
        are walking among the silent lost crush where
the city opens itself to us like a great bell     a stoked furnace.


I meant to take photographs of the monuments:
Delos in the rain-light of autumn, the gusts of wind
from the vertiginous mountains where the snow line
lay low across the villages, snow falling on the monasteries
where we stopped for metaxa and honey, and the
monks smelling of cold dirt, toothless, sharing the hard
bread, the yogurt with cucumbers. If I had only known
I was happy, the wind on my face, Richard trying to put
his arm around me, the car with its heavy tires
groaning as it navigated the roads full of boulders.
In one town they unlocked the museum, a collection of
what the dead had left: gilded glass cups for tea,
platters of faded bronze, the thick velvet skirts and
waistcoats with their fraying embroidery. The camera to my
eye, I snapped Richard against a sky of violent clouds,
myself with a cigarette in a bathroom mirror. How
impoverished my dreams now seem. Drunk I kissed the
German hippie, walked with him to his hotel,
our bodies jutting against each other. I wanted it to
be a devotion, but we were both too drunk, too tired.
He said the name Anselm Kiefer. I said the painter.
He belched and rolled over to sleep. I crept out of
the bed before dawn, the streets of Thessaloniki shining
through their tarnish. Here the Turkish mosque, there
the café neon where the men drank café media and
ate plates of octopus. Below a port, the white ships
and the clouds darkening. Later, nursing a fearsome
headache, I would see the beaten gold laurel crown of Philip
of Macedonia, the frail leaves, remnants of empire.