(after Debussy, 12 Etudes For Piano)
1) For Five Fingers
Call up the smoke, slowly,
conjure your hidden animal soul. Quick,
this is an order, not a request (quit your giggling).
It's serious, we can't have this silliness, there's too much at stake.
Carve the smoke quickly with your tiny hands, make shadow cutouts, now.
(It's not that I don't care for you, loving only your skilled fingers,
your talented skin. No, but what I need now, today,
are what they promise in the dark tent of this bed,
where mysteries conspire and smoke rises from an invisible fire
that can't warm either of us). Do it now.
2) For the Thirds
Now, as the sun fights its way out of mist,
an avian concerto moves me from sleep
to waking. Already she has entered the day
leaving a gap in the bed, sheets still kissed
by her warmth. Perhaps, I think, I'll leap
out of bed, catch her on the stairs and say--
Well, what I forgot to say. My body resists
the impulse, the mind calculates that it will keep.
This is a squall of loss, not a storm. She's not far away.
3) For the Fourths
Away from this table, this pen, words
carry different weights. Silence is not
decoration there. Quick waterfall notes from birds
are just and only that. Things aren't taught
to mean beyond themselves. But right here,
at this cloth covered table, the white field
of a page demands thoughts that are near
reality but not themselves real.
That's not at all true, of course. I've heard
such theories but disagree. It's not
words reflecting facts, like a mirror,
just a mute language, recoverable but concealed.
4) For the Sixths
Concealed under clothes her form
eludes words, both truth and lies.
Her hair, at times a brown storm
sometimes a dark helmet. Her eyes
are more daunting than her shape,
to words, at least. There's a place, the nape
of her neck, that I never let escape
my kisses, she's so tasty there.
Often, never enough, I'll just drape
an arm across her shoulder, aware
of her quiet heart beat, her beauty, her soul,
I suppose. I want her whole.
5) For the Octaves
Holes punched in silence
by birds and children;
a patch of mist, forgotten
by the sun. There's no balance
to this morning. Diffused
minutes, a fractured sequence
of non-events. My patience
tries to mend things, but is refused.
6) For Eight Fingers
Refusing a smoke for now,
I squat by the fire and ask
for a story. Quick, with small
words, like sparks flying
from these logs. You start by lying,
which I enjoy. I like stories tall
in the woods, crackling with fire snaps. I bask
yellow in the purple night. Start again. Now.
7) For the Chromatic Scale
Three blackbirds smudge the sky
like dotted notes. Nearby, a red car
slides past a yellow house and down
a blue hill, now quick, now slow,
lost at last to distance and mist.
The birds bank and wheel
in careless formation, silent.
8) For the Ornaments
Silent smoke brushes past
late blossoms, the bough still damp
from last night's all too rare rain.
Fire is elsewhere, smoldering leftover from the last
winter feast, perhaps, or imprisoned by a presence lamp
in a cold church. The blossoms remain,
tossed lightly by a breeze, teased and passed
by confused birds, dazzled by the damp
leaves. Clouds are forming, perhaps it will rain
soon, but probably not. Each drop seems like the last
that will ever fall. It grows dark but I leave the lamp
alone, unlighted. Silence, I think is the main
requirement. It allows one to reach past
this melancholy drought, to cherish the damp
brown earth, and to pray for rain.
9) For Repeated Notes
Rain escaped again. Birds
scatter like smoke in the gray light. I'd heard
some storm was due, over due. Just words
from an insane weatherman. That's the third
day this week he's wrong. The ground's been stirred
but stays thirsty. A moon dryly wanes, interred
in a sterile sky. We've lamely entered
dust's reign, with these damned cheerful birds.
10) For Opposite Sonorities
Birds--gaps in silence--red
and blue blurs in the leaves,
more active than ear or eye,
a distraction from her, a difference.
She (ah, that sound) in her long languors,
studies in blacks and browns, the gaps
in her presence. I sit here, hunched
over this long table, warming my hands
above coffee, birds teasing my sight,
turning her over in my heart, as if
she were some image of woman
not a woman herself. Then suddenly
in the silence between two notes,
like smoke, the broken icon is gone.
11) For Compound Arpeggios
Gone, the mist has vanished
from the small valley of this yard. Quick
quiet notes, small stones under shoes next door
form a gardener's minuet. I am thinking nothing at all
(though I breathe her and live her I do not, always, think her)
just letting the cool day rinse me, remake me,
not even keeping watch. Silent.
12) For the Accords
Silence, startled to waking, to music--
No, not birds, not now, at this time, this place.
It's within her, as I make an ethic
of our love. Wrongly, I know, face to face
with myself over these words. I replace
feeling with fiction, with mirrors and smoke.
I cast shadow plays on the wall, then erase
them before she looks, afraid they might evoke
laughter, but lust, afraid of becoming a joke
at this late date. Concealed somewhere by mists
and evasions, there's a strongbox of words
whose meanings I've forgotten. It resists
me. But if it opened, if she just heard
what I meant to say, now, she would be stirred
and her enthusiastic hands would fall
on to my hungry skin, light as a bird's
note on an ear. Enough! I become small.
I've learned enough to wait, to listen for a call.
Mark J. Mitchell
Mark J. Mitchell studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver, George Hitchcock and Barbara Hull. His work has appeared in various periodicals over the last thirty five years, as well as the anthologies Good Poems, American Places, Hunger Enough, Retail Woes and Line Drives. It has also been nominated for both Pushcart Prizes and The Best of the Net. He is the author of two full-length collections, Lent 1999 (Leaf Garden Press) and Soren Kierkegaard Witnesses an Execution (Local Gems) as well as two chapbooks, Three Visitors (Negative Capability Press) and Artifacts and Relics, (Folded Word). His novel, Knight Prisoner, is available from Vagabondage Press and two more novels are forthcoming: A Book of Lost Songs (Wild Child Publishing) and The Magic War (Loose Leaves). He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the documentarian and filmmaker Joan Juster where he makes a living showing people pretty things in his city.
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