From the first sounds it is clear we’re in the city. Cars grind quietly in the street; perhaps an airplane thunders overhead. And then we are behind glass, in an apartment. There are footsteps down a hall and lights turned out.
And then the sound of the first of the birds—preferably scarlet tanagers—flying about within the room’s closed acoustics. It sings a small song, then is joined by several others. The sound should be chaotic, but comforting. How they speak in movement and punctuate one another’s shifts with their own.
.) It’s birds! They have a way of getting in:
first one, then many; many, then a few.
They’ve come to see THE COUPLE act, pretend—
As any couple will, in time, by choosing
the slower, gentler kiss goodnight—not sex, not dreams,
but the Old World, with its film noir swallows
and its separate beds. Gates of some Eden’s Eve
shut for the night. While the man stays up and counts
between her breaths, watching her rising chest.
Licking the salt from his palm and the palm from his mouth…
He thinks she knows her choice, that she knows best
and how to cure their love if it’s gone cold.
Thing is, she’s sleeping as he rides toward the New World.
But the birds have seen it all. They’ve seen the end
and are rooting for THE COUPLE anyway—
have, ever since THE LOVER found in his friend
whatever one finds which makes him heel and stay.
And the year was easy, and the next one easier,
until they happened without much will or work.
And the birds looked on, unchanged by the changing scenes:
Florida ‘til fall semester, then New York,
where now THE COUPLE has settled down in bed,
and THE POET sighs, as he often does these days,
begging THE LOVER to ask, or turn his head,
which he doesn’t—just roll and shut—
You should try to sleep.
I’m trying. But Paisley’s sleeping on the sheet.The sound of a wheezy dog lifting its jangling head.
Well push her off.
I tried, she just comes back. (To the dog.) Get off of me!More jangling as the dog is moved and THE POET wrestles to get out of bed.
Where are you going?
I just can’t sleep. I think I’ll watch TV…
But THE POET doesn’t. Instead, he gets some scotch
and sits in the dark for a minute, in his study,
watching the red eyes of 12:00 flash on the clock.
And then he moves for the light and grabs his journal,
uncaps his pen and turns to face the page.There is the sound of ice in the glass and of smoke drawn slowly in.
THE LOVER shapes a heart from what will burn well
and sets it in THE POET’s empty cage.
Sing, he says, then lights it. Sing to me.The sound of burning for several seconds.
(Still in the voice of THE LOVER
.) If only I could sing, I would, you know.
And THE POET smiles.The burning dies out.
I know you would. That’s sweet.
Keep singing, baby.
THE POET shuts his journal and the door.
and crawls in bed and passes quickly out.
The dog moves back to where she was before
and no one notices. The birds, too, mounted
in roost about the room, breathe in the night
as if the dark were ether, a chamber gone quiet.The dog jangles as the acoustics of the room shift and broaden to suggest a large theatre. People shuffle in, chatting as they find their seats. An orchestra tunes as the titles are read