—Claudia Emerson, 1957–2014
I believe in an absolute rhythm, a rhythm . . . in poetry that corresponds
exactly with the emotion or shade of emotion to be expressed.
Siri, show us a picture of an iamb.
& the pixels gathered on the phone screen,
Half-moon married to slash, scythe
Beside spear-shaft. Crescent or chalice,
Then a wheat-stalk bending to autumn zephyrs.
& yes, the hearts’-blood coursing:
Drumtap, birdcall, ringtone. Resplendent
Atavistic pictograph. Sympathetic magic,
Impious to demean it to concept, to symbol,
To sign. The tattooist took your phone,
Turned it & its pictures in his hand. Ponytail,
Harley T-shirt, lots of bling. Shouldn’t be too hard to do,
He said. & the instrument began its hum
& sable infusion—your right wrist,
The left clutching Kent’s calm hand.
Now you’re showing it off to the six of us
Crowding the restaurant table, your hair nearly back
From the latest chemo. Head half bent,
You pick at your salad. At your desk,
You tell us, under the drafts of poems
You thumbtack to your wall—pin them
The way the rest of us would slap up Post-Its—
You pause sometimes beneath the desk-lamp halo
& contemplate the fresh dark ink above
The indigo rivulet of vein.
You have three months. Later, the first-year
Med students in the MCV basement
Will pause to examine it—absolute rhythm,
Arranging their tools beneath the vapor-
Light glare. Lancets poised, they ready themselves
To receive your gift, yet another
Of your legacies. Dear friend, your faith
Lay always in unsealing, in the gnosis we carry,
Luminous & mortal within. But also outliving us,
Outliving us in word & act. You’d say this better
& more plainly, in some anecdote
From one-stoplight Chatham,
Seasoned with some lines from Dickinson, Welty,
Or Kitty Wells. Toward the end your poems
Issued forth daily, fiercer & more knowing
Than any of us deserved. Absolute rhythm,
Where sorrow is ecstatic. Grant us
The skill to learn their august cadences.
The waitress brings to-go bags. By stealth,
You’ve picked up the tab again. The rain has
Almost stopped & the parking lot shimmers in a pewter
Intractable light. Now the hugs & handshakes.
Turning, I glimpse the raven-black
Inscripting ink once more, glinting with raindrops,
Pulsing & quickened along your wrist.