The complexity of the gold flute is one
part music, the other what it says to us
who hear its look and scarcity, what we
want in the lust and luster of the metal,
the lure of the lamp-lit curtain seen
from a distance by a boy in the street.
Gold is made of distance, of the held
dissonance that would keep promising
an end, but cannot end and keep its promise.
A gold flute is one part money, longing
to spend its last breath elsewhere, in the arms
of a dying fall that comforts us to tears.
If music were a thing we hold, we could
end there and find it a little irritating,
like the willfully obscure with nothing
at stake. People knock themselves out
for the more beautiful story with them
inside (and outside at the same time).
And say the couple there consummates
the truce between them and the emptiness
that leads a body like water to a glass.
Gold is both the emptiness and the filling,
both the body and the day it seizes.
The pocket of change and its little chime,
they can make you hungry with music
like a grand choir of empty mouths.
Scarce but not too scarce, gold makes its coin
an angel, its angel a coin, a good faith
covenant that there is more to desire.
This shine of the mirror makes it larger.
The illusion of that, larger still.
At a certain age I knew. I wanted
to get close to the loveliness that scared me.
She had a name I made particular
at a distance and I wanted to break
something, I was just that happy sometimes.
I was cast in gold, though I could not
see it. And music minted in awkward joy
would become the youthful thing that lingered
as I aged. Oiled vinyl in tattered sleeves.
If heaven is money for those who believe it,
so is ignorance. At a certain age.
The gilt bird and its real song have this
in common. They comfort us in exchange
for what they disturb. If the rarest
flutes are the warmest, we just might feel that
in the bush on fire that won’t go out.
Or gold that is the dead and sexual child
among the metals, the first to seize us
with captured light, the last to corrode.
If Artephius (alchemy’s holy father
alive in us as rumor and song) burned
a hole in night to find it, it was youth
he wanted, sure, but possessed by spirits
older, more refined, selective, wise.
He wanted to be the child of his search,
particular as love is when it chooses one,
whose name it labors to make personal.
Mercury, lead, cobalt, rust, the wind
and fathomless dark of Athens, the ruffle
of trash and branches that breaks one night in two:
to each its name that is the girlfriend
of the world in the distance, veined in gold.
Particular and so longing to be more
a part. Gold as the cornfield of heaven
we harvest and plow and harvest and sometimes
there is a little singing to make work light.
All of nature under the alchemist’s fire.
Even gold can aspire to be more gold
or, like angels, labor to be common.
Back then truth was an aesthetic and often
elsewhere, like a blood-red terror that clocks us
in the morning, the real as promising
more than this, these sheets, damp with sweat.
Gold was the signature of the center
that was everywhere, and seeing was its
author. Holy things are expensive.
It makes them harder to find, harder
for them who look for us as the child
who looks for kindness in sex, sex in kindness.
A monstrance is polished with the love
that choses and so leaves a portion to dark.
The interiors of nature are always dark.
And certain wisdoms tinker at the vault
of matter for what it never fully explains.
Gold becomes a language for certain sex
as the language of returning to something
changed by fire. What we ache our lives for
is too often what is young and sinking
into pleasure we find, no sooner, sinking.
Artephius sketched an abstract of faith
that loved rocks as the flutist loves her flute
because of where it takes her and being
the reason why. Gold as the bird of fire,
the angel’s signature and so a pretext
for the burning of men like Artephius.
Gold as the language that longed for a tongue.
He even ate it. Which is what a kid
would do. Or a painting that is tasteless.
Or a song that fawns over the girlfriend
of its own taste. But songs that would be true
alone are no less childish and pissed off
at the phonies. We need a kid like that
in a certain age, as the lead complexion
needs blood, or an aesthetic of ugliness
needs a better reason to fall in love.
We need a kid full of vinegar and piss
the color of gold. J.D. Salinger wrote
to an age like that, and he burnished
each word in his novel to a natural gloss.
To be particular is to listen as love
is particular and then complex, called
to forgiveness, less choosy as it goes.
Gold kills. And we cloak our angels in it.
Who does not live with the dissonance
that holds (too long) their gods and precious items.
The final city has a gate and, one hopes,
a better reason to be kind, to burn holy
objects by the light of their own fire.
The flute knows. Although it never asks.
Sex too, at a certain age, needs a better
reason, and shooting galleries a better
connection, the dreary parks of Wichita
a gallery on the river with a Hopper
in a gold frame. The old friends are lonely.
Keep them, says the doggerel of youth.
And the austere beauty of the portico
in New England that settles no argument.
It is the music in the expensive throat
that is warmed by gold but has no gold
inside it. No. It loves the commonplace
refined to be more bare than we remember:
the great press of sunlight on a window,
the face whose eyes have the long acquainted
look of exclusion and invitation
like doors that open into empty rooms.
At a certain age, ignorance is butter.
And then it is ignorance. And over.
The distance between a painting and the heart
it touches, it is not permanent. It is
an emblem. Not gold, but the illusion
that makes the mirror of the painting larger,
as bodies are, when we pass through them.
Once, the painting says, I was a boy
with a flute for a heart, and the wooded
lot behind our house a place a girl’s name
was so particular it was the angel
of the particular. Once I made her
laugh with my mistakes. They are out
there, says the solitude of the plain
and beautiful face that never changes.
They are opening with laughter still:
the mouths, the buttons, the final puzzle of her
small gold latch that held our shadows in.
Among the many styles of bereavement
and release, this one walks and therefore leads us,
not as a river or the otherwise stretched
signatures that pay our debts, but as one
strong hypnotic pulse drawn to the altar,
to the coffin hinge and the sky it opens.
Remember how the composer tore up
his dedication page, disillusioned,
how the Bonaparte Symphony became
the Eroica and thus a little lost,
flagged in anger like a house on fire.
But to hell with that, says the music.
We are alive, you and I, and walking,
the way a heart walks, over the unwritten
bar lines that stay unwritten as we go.
Who would not lie in music’s river, still
and yet moving, moved. To think dejection
finds its equal there, among the reeds.
Or that the cradled violins preserve us
in memory without words, without, in time,
the memory. Only the will to have one.
When the last beat falls against its echo,
the record vinyl crackling into mist,
I feel old, refreshed, jittery as I lift
the floating needle, then lay it with care
in the darkened ring between the movements.
I too lie down in that black circle, listening
to the measures that would be personal
and not. Like the rocks we write on.
Or the trumpets of lilies that make no sound.
Say the dedication you lay in stone
fills with water. The elegiac movement
is not the name, but the rain that falls there.
One part of grief is always water. The rest:
exhortations, long tones, the low violas
who cannot tell you where they are. Or why.
My life savings are my picture
of old age as it spends what’s left,
the last dollar the final breath
I never draw, for it’s the gold
bird whose song is a still place
that will not die, the sweet unheard
as heavens are and graves and all
they take, hold, and cannot touch.
Gold, Hero, and Midas are forthcoming in the collection of poems Gold Bee this Fall
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**
Bruce Bond is the author of fifteen books including, most recently, For the Lost Cathedral (LSU, 2015), The Other Sky (Etruscan, 2015), Immanent Distance: Poetry and the Metaphysics of the Near at Hand (University of Michigan Press, 2015), and Black Anthem (Tampa Review Prize, University of Tampa Press, 2016). Three of his books are forthcoming: Gold Bee (Crab Orchard Open Competition Award, Southern Illinois University Press), Sacrum (Four Way Books), and Blackout Starlight: New and Selected Poems (L. E. Phillabaum Award, LSU). Presently he is Regents Professor at University of North Texas.