|Sonnet to Orpheus / Three
A God can do it. But tell me, how could
one of us pass through a lyre so narrow?
Our senses are too wide. At the crossroads
of emotion, there are no temples for Apollo.
Singing is not desire, the way you teach it,
not a plea for something finally achieved.
For a God, it's easy to sing and so exist.
But when do we exist? And when does he
turn the earth and stars toward our faces?
Children, it isn't what you love, even
when a voice sings from your mouth. What flashes
in a song must be forgotten. It rescinds.
The real song is another kind of air.
Impossible. God in a wing. No, wind. Wind...
- Ranier Maria Rilke
Translated by Greg Simon
My New Telephone
for Joseph Millar
Slowly the phone installer
places thick reading glasses
on the bridge of his nose.
He's standing by my writing desk.
It's odd for a workman to wear --
from the rack at Barnes & Noble --
glasses held around his neck
by frayed black cords that look
as if he's been gnawing on them
in boredom while dreaming about
the race track at the edge of town,
fillies he's tried to will to first
place like clockwork, like the inner
workings of a brand-new phone
just waiting for someone like him
to whisper hot tips into it:
"Summer Squall in the finale.
Frankie swears it's a sure thing."
I look around at all the phones
already installed in our house.
I wonder if my wife called him.
He looks like a client of hers,
a guy who used red nail polish
to paint his initials
on a co-worker's side mirror
so she'd know he was thinking
about her every time she
changed lanes on the freeway.
"What're ya workin' on?" he asks,
one clear streak of sweat sliding
like a vein outside his skin
down the cheek of his weather-
beaten but still boyish face.
He's pulled a book or two from
a near-by shelf, stuffing them
into a worn leather valise.
Funny, I don't see tools in it.
Five minutes into my life
& I know I'll have to lie
to this guy. "Rilke," I say
& push Alfonso's work aside.
"You know, that Austrian cadet
who grew up to be a giant.
He wrote in German & French,
or maybe some combination
of each, sheer dense hard poetry.
He composed in a silk dress
borrowed from his housekeeper,
standing up in a two-room
Swiss tower, staring at freshly
plucked roses from the kitchen
garden, or sat in the dappled
sunlight on an ancient stone wall
he had rebuilt by himself
without using mortar, stroking
the delicate rosy cheeks
of many Prussian princesses
with his ten impeccably
manicured slender talented
tapered fingers..." The installer
interrupts my reveries. "Nice.
Do you mind? Can I borrow that?"
He grips my pen.
He's writing this.