- Ritual is firm where life is fickle,
- Steps in, hands us formula for hurt,
- Things to do: cross ourselves, stand, bow.
- There are no words, we protest, but somehow
- Ritual instructs us what to say;
- Ritual puts one foot before the other,
- Addresses wife-made-widow, daughter, brother.
- Even at the grave, the coffin lowered,
- We have a little chore, a fist of dirt
- That tattles on the lid, a gesture toward
- Real work of burial. And then the group
- Drives down the mountain to the brisk cafe
- Where tradition serves the living: bread and pickle,
- Brandy, bitter coffee, and fish soup.
Granddaddy’s pitch pipe
From the Museum of Obsolete Objects
- Black battered flying saucer, prop for a film
- In black and white on half-seen wire suspended,
- With curious vents, or bays, all round, for sortie
- By hostile crafts, or drafts, and all defended
- By symbols, as on the Phaestos disk — with flat
- And sharp, and clef, a quartered alphabet,
- Weird round harmonica, metallic, slim,
- And still true, over time, to A 440.
- I used to keep it in the fiddle’s case
- (A fiddle in his case), that velvet-lined
- Black box heavier than its contents, place
- To lay the frail, aged instrument, where I’d find
- The brittle crumbs of resin, an empty chest.
- (In music, too, they call the silence rest.)
The Arsenic Hour
- (Google it)
- The pasta water’s on the boil, and I’m
- Trying to keep the lid on — have some wine,
- I tell myself. Now is when baths are drawn
- Like battle-lines, when long-division, fraught
- With faux newfangled-ness, must be retaught,
- Relearned, resentment for the dividends —
- Quotients, remainders — after all, what’s time
- But long division? Twenty-fours and twelves,
- Sixties, sevens, three-hundred sixty-fives,
- Fractions in which we parcel our prime selves.
- The phone call is impossible, my friends!
- Now is the husbandry that falls to wives,
- Wrestling the insurgence off to sleep,
- The chore that never ends, until it ends,
- The work of days, the work that will not keep.
A. E. Stallings is an American poet who lives in Greece. A MacArthur Fellow, her most recent collection is Olives (Northwestern University Press).