Santa Clara University


Epitaph for the Journey

Epitaph for the Journey, 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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