Reading by the author

The temple’s mystery is this:
somehow, I remembered
the same music for ten years.

Not its notes—
I could only play the right keys
if playing fast enough;

if giving up
to the flesh,
which knew with no telling.

Meaning: I might be an ecosystem—
a collection of dependent instincts, echoes.

              I am mostly an unbidden translation;
              these elements tumult too close to their own asymptote;
I owe myself

to strip down to the line of me:

girl-river, wolf-gaze, incendiary season, wild-eyed harvest, land’s black heart.
Look too closely & it’s half a death.
Look too closely & it’s clover honey. or psychopomp
vein ferrying my blue life back to provenance.

I call the blood
to travel in its proper direction, defiant

of the cardinal, red as it, as plume & pomegranate, homeland
sunset cymbaling winter ice

until the necessary fracture. Revival under
sun blaze, little springtime or inferno mine,

little Pentecost, the tongue in my mouth
a fresh & native muscle,

roused rightly wicked,
anarchic as the origins of song:

a spell. a bond. a wailing.
an imitation of the sparrows.

The root of organic, being:
serving as an instrument.

(I listen for the organ—figuration
for something I can’t quite hold. But the flesh of me      
is surely the cathedral it shouts in.)

I remembered the song
              through my hands, only:
a knowledge outpacing
              my mind, that had to outrun the mind
to save itself, otherwise
              descent, otherwise murderous
undertow, & gone
              that vital beating
like a bat’s black wing,
              like the maelstrom of an orgasm,
which carried the melody
              in it, tucked away
until quickened, until lifted
              straight out—a minor comet
coal-lit with the body’s fire—straight out
              those rare hours when I was able
to surrender, meet myself
              at the bellowing border, there—
do you understand?—there
              at my most animal—

Poet’s Note

Superficially, this piece was inspired by my pandemic-panic-impulse decision to buy a used piano keyboard, even though I have next to no knowledge of piano. I can play about two-thirds of just one song (“Once Upon a December” from Anastasia), which I learned over a decade ago. I can’t read music, so the latter third evades me, but in practicing the beginning, I found myself fascinated by the body’s ability to remember in a way that seems almost totally independent of the mind. If I miss a note while playing, I generally have to restart the whole song. I don’t really “know” the music. The sequence is held in my hands alone, which somehow, after all this time, can run through it on autopilot.

This poem reflects on what it means to follow one’s instinct in the process of artmaking. I had recently written a few poems I was unhappy with; I’d known how I’d wanted them to end when I started them, and as a result, the works sounded stiff, even vaguely didactic. “Digression,” written in the wake of those pieces, is a reminder to myself to allow the poem the freedom to unfurl in the process of its own writing. The poem itself often knows more than me—can reveal its own path to me—and its blooming requires, as the piano did, a surrender of mind to body. Along with that understanding comes a musing on the act of creation as something primitive, innate, capable of drawing us into a layer of ourselves that is more natural and intuitively connected.