Black Candelabras

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A sentinel, the heron, seven-foot watchman of the elemental

as the strata of silver horizon between ocean and fog are squeezed minute by minute

to nothing. The reaches of the pinyon pine bearing black candelabras,

wind-tossed. Unbid the voices come, shadows playing among shadows,

disparate fragments of life, disparate fragments of memory, that won’t let you go.

You’re a struggler like me a voice too familiar. And the listener, also shadow,

a breath from self-forgotten, hears the elemental, like the pithy legato of an oboe,

elemental but not substantial, no thing to pound your fist against. The voices, shades of will,

will have their say with your soul. The little Napoleon, Commander-in-Chief, at a get-to-know-you religious retreat:

My wife and I have a muscular relationship. He scribbled on a sheet attached to your back, Selfish.

And then, with a well-controlled stutter, the professor: A relationship is like good Jack Daniels.

It’s meant to be sipped, going to the bookcase and pulling out a bottle.

Through the night the random voices play on. In the Y locker room after aerobics, the woman

chirping of the wife of the man she moved in with: We both had cancer of the breast. She died. I didn’t.

From a stranger would be friend, a fragment of possibility, “Come around Thanksgiving

and taste something. If I’m not richer by then, then . . . who died before November.

Increment by increment, from the night-chilled beach, mist drawn up by voluptuous sun.

The good counselor/priest, after your mother’s death: Just think. Now that she’s gone,

she can be with you all the time. A whoosh of wings and the heron, messenger of the elemental,

lifts off, upward and beyond, where the broken, disparate voices are made whole in the strata of song.