Epitaph for the Journey

A poem by Paul Mariani.

Miles Davis cradling his gleaming trumpet, three black jazzmen slouched like hipster guardian angels there behind him. Searing coals those eyes, staring out from the photo at you. The jagged blue-black tesserae of Justinian’s brow under the golden dome of San Appollinare, unblinking there these fifteen hundred years. Listen long enough, and you can hear the arpeggios their eyes attend to. Hart Crane, doomed
pilgrim that he was, surely must have heard them. At least his poems report back that he did, descending from the giant harp he called the Bridge. And Lorca heard it too, his dear dark lady, moonbright eyes facing that blind unblinking firing squad. Father Hopkins refused our four-bar player piano measures, listening hard instead for the strain of plainchant groaning off the stones of Delphi, an ancient music off the Dead Sea cells of Qumran monks, or later in Monte Cassino’s choir stalls, before it disappeared into the vast indifferent Void. Others too, they say, have heard it in the timeless vortices of time. And now, if they have anything at all to tell me, it is this: my time, like yours, friend, is drawing to a close, my one ear dead since birth, the other closing down that much more each month. Most go about their business day by day. They keep their heads down or simply learn to wait. Here and there someone points or gestures there or here. Unheard melodies, Keats called them, eyes ablaze, then dimming as his body fell apart. Once my own eyes blazed, but that was then. Too late, someone else is singing. It’s far too late. But the high flung bells—if anyone can or cares to hear them

-keep choiring in the haunted rising wind.

—Paul Mariani

Paul Mariani’s most recent poetry collection is Deaths & Transfigurations. He is university professor of English at Boston College.
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