Three Poems ~ George Looney

Correspondence with Fog & Consolation

Not everything is what it seems. The fog’s a reminder
that we’re each trapped in our own prison we call the self,

& the best we can hope for is that in the next cell over
there’s someone we can talk with, or, if we’re lucky,

sing with, harmonizing after lights out for hours.
Someone who knows all the same songs. Maybe

music isn’t the right metaphor. Maybe
we should hope that whoever is doing time

in the next cell over has arms just long enough
to reach past the thick wall between the cells

so that, if we strain, our fingertips can just graze,
that brief touch enough to ignite

whatever passion still smolders in the almost cold
fireplaces we used to call our hearts.

I’m not smart enough to know the right image
or the right words to make it real. But I want to be

able to sing songs with you long into whatever night
we could share, to have arms long enough to be able to

touch your fingertips, & I want that touch
to make a music we could hold each other

& dance to till the music ends. The fog
this morning has turned this world into a sadder version

of Hades. Sadder because at least Hades had
the river Lethe, the river of forgetfulness.

If a soul entered the underworld by swimming that river,
all the sorrows of their life in the world above

were forgotten, washed away. But then the pleasures
& joys were lost, too. Still, there are times

when I wish I could go for a dip in the Lethe
so I could just forget everything. But

that would mean forgetting you. As tempting
as it might be to want to forget everything,

were I standing on the damp shore of the Lethe
& thought of you I would have to

turn away & pay my coins to Charon to ferry me
over the river Styx into the afterlife. Yes,

that would mean I’d have to carry with me what Rilke wrote
in the Duino Elegies is all we can take

with us—pain. But at least I’d still have
the memory of something that was good

in the world. Despite the pain, to have
the memory of you to keep me company

makes the fog seem less sad. For days, it’s been
nothing but rain, as if even the sky has

been missing you. The same sky that lingers
over you, &, I have no doubt, is in

a far better mood there, getting to listen to
your voice, your laughter, & to watch you dance

under it, consoled by your beauty & grace.
Consolation mostly escapes me here,

but for the brief conversations when you call,
your voice an elixir, soothing. Funny, how

the sound of a voice, though from far off,
can make the rain into something other than a curse.

Now that the rain has finally ended
& the clouds have moved on, may you

be dancing under the same clear sky
that has arrived here. And laughing.

To Support the Theory

The light in this moment wants to do nothing
more than illuminate the café
where the singer’s raspy reed of a voice

defies the static from a battered jukebox
accompanied by music worried out
of shopworn instruments by studio musicians

paid by the hour. Nothing more than to clarify
how the lyrics are a gauze
layered over the body the singer’s lover has bruised

so often not even the crack she smoked
just before recording her brittle voice
singing, or as close as she could come to

singing, over the tracks already laid-down
could let her forget how love can be
spent in a bright-lit emergency waiting room

where the only other people are missing
fingers or entire limbs & no one
makes a sound & still a sobbing seems to come

from a time so far in the past it could almost be
the future. This light wants nothing more
than to support the theory not everything is

about waiting. Some hear the singer’s voice
as a kind of sobbing that’s broken
enough to recognize it as beautiful, the lyrics

written down, perhaps, by Yeats after
a night Maud Gonne let him kiss her
nipples taut before she whispered, so calm

it hurt him, Enough, & pushed him off her
& covered up, her fingers signing,
as they slipped buttons through holes,

Never again in the dull flickers of candles
that, burning, made a sound like what scratches
will make as the needle scrapes over them

on vinyl in years to come. The sound,
almost, of the singer’s hoarse voice stitched in
& out of the musicians’ ardent performances.

The sound, it’s tempting to say, a lover might make
being tender. Breathing, say, a name over
a clitoris too sensitive still to touch. A sound

echoed by the hushed inhalation as the woman
shivers from the passage of formed air
out her lover’s mouth. Say the scratchy music

the woman hears becoming aware again of
the world is the song sung in the bruised voice
of another woman that sounds, to this

woman whose lover is kissing his way
up her stomach to her erect nipples,
like a kind of sobbing, like the crying out

of an old man who hangs out in the light
of an emergency waiting room
looking for the lover he’s lost, listening

for the voice of a ghost whispering his name
in his ear. Say the light in this waiting room
wants nothing more than to suggest nothing

is lost. Not the way the musicians loved
what their instruments let them
discover in this world. Not the sound

of an almost broken woman singing
lyrics that are all she remembers
of how little pleasure it takes to keep us

longing to breathe in all the world we can.

Canine Riffs in the Neighborhood

Is it possible her absence has become

the reason the dog two doors down
has taken to barking what could be mistaken

for a passage from “Stairway to Heaven”
in the mornings & again in the evenings,

as if to repeat a bit of music

might be enough to offer as evidence
that there are no accidents, that nothing is

as haphazard as love is said to be?

The dog only knows the longing to sing
comes on, & it does, & for blocks

lovers forget their mistakes & go looking
for one another to do a little dance

& remind each other just why they are

together. The dog’s guttural rendition of
the Led Zeppelin classic doesn’t get me

dancing. Her absence means I have no one
to put my arms around & move to

any music with. The damn mutt could be
barking out Chopin & it wouldn’t matter.

Not even Mozart or Van Morrison
would mean a thing. All the canine music in

the world can’t give me a body to hold,
to move together with to any rhythm

with any amount of grace. Out there

other dogs on other streets are taking up
whatever song they think they are singing,

& the dancing of couples that accompanies
this almost dissonant music

has me cursing the absence that’s brought all this on,
remembering the nights we would

dance through this house to no music but our own.