Poetry

Field C: Tones I Always Wanted My Voice to Inhabit

Vintage jukebox at the Jukebox Museum, Pharr, Texas. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

It hasn’t been a hard day, but the clouds are taking their retreat.

I want to write for them a way to cultivate new shape.

Which means – I want to write for you more than an apology

for my Midwestern posture, how uselessly polite I can be

before rain falls and then, ankle-deep in a ditch of mud,

cigarette boxes, chocolate donut wrappers – mud and maybe

roadside crop slightly less hostile – shrug my shoulders

and smile, an archaic gesture. These things just happen.

What can be done? You already know ways to read

expansiveness above you like the barn swallow I strengthen

to be, my afternoons spent swooping, learning these brutal

arcs. If we begin again, we’ll begin like this: there is a man

outside the only bar in town with a good jukebox

and better brandy. Like the rest of us, when he claps his hands

against his jeans, he raises dust of more than a week’s worth

of work. He mumbles to himself about rain and useless crops,

doesn’t roar, with his face upturned, to be given something

good – but a scab across the bridge of his thin nose suggests

he doesn’t suffer yet from simple or phosphorescent ease.

Inside, I’m lonely, but the bartender thinks I’m drunk.

He has good reason. I take a sip of ice water and what is left

of whiskey, close my eyes, practice breath like I’m blowing out

birthday candles. Really, I’m just trying to make those

cumulus rearrange, waltz – cloud, be a ballerina balanced

on the back of a well-trained bear. Be a bouquet of rusted nails

pulled from the old fence of a family cemetery no one knows

the last descendent of. Be a queen walking down an aisle of lace.

Be the bolt of satin made into the gown or be the lace or the hands

that make new fabric. Be newness and something we will

have to forage better language for but until then, can only point,

shape our mouths to show an understanding. There is a parable here,

though I’m having a hard time recognizing the difference between

the tones I always wanted my voice to inhabit and my inability

to whistle. Are you still here with me? Begin again: hello.

When I am most sad, I pull weeds from the garden, gather

the clay-soft soil from their roots, build small castles as if seaside

and happy. Soon enough, startlingly, I am close.

Christine Holm is a poet living and working in Wisconsin. She is a recent resident of Wormfarm Institute.
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