The Singers

by Craig Arnold

for Boyce

They are threatening to leave us the nimble-throated singers
the little murderers with the quick pulses
They perch at the ends of bare branches their tails
are ragged and pitiful the long green
feathers are fallen out They go on eating and eating
last autumn's yellow melia berries
They do not care that you approach cold corpses
rot in the grass in the reeds
The gray-shouldered crows hobble about the wren
barely a mouthful cocks her pert tail
and threatens to slaughter the white-footed cat in the bushes
They do not understand that they are dying

They are threatening to leave us how quickly we forget
the way they taught us how to play our voices
opening soul to weightlessness like the Spartan poet
singing under the burden of his old bones
to the chorus girls with their honey songs and their holy voices
how he wished he could scoot like a kingfisher
lightly over the flower of the waves who boasted
I know the tunes of every bird but I Alcman
found my words and song in the tongue of the strident partridge
Where will we find songs when the sleek-headed
mallards are gone who chase each other around the pond
the reluctant duck and the lovesick drake
The way she turns her head to the side to scold him
whack whack whack whack whack the way her boyfriend
chases off his rival and then swims back reeb reeb
with feeble reassurances the way
he sits on top of her the way she flaps her wings
to keep above water the way they look
pleased with themselves wagging their tails smoothing
each feather back in its right place
They are threatening to leave but you may still catch them
saying goodbye stealthed in the cedar and cypress
at dawn in the dark clarity between sleep and waking
A run of five notes on a black flute
another and another buried deep in the mix
how many melodies can the air hold
And what they sing so lovely and so meaningless
may urge itself upon you with the ache
of something just beyond the point of being remembered
the trace of a brave thought in the face of sadness.

Last updated April 06, 2023