—too many waltzes have ended . . .
                   – Wallace Stevens

It’s only when the stars
are lined above a burning
cathedral, charnel house

or theater, when the air
is filled with riffling ashes
that hallow a space where tragedy

& comedy are indistinguishable
that these seeds, too small to see,
take to the wind—

& when they find a soil
rich with the bones of dictators
& clowns, they root, & thrive

if fed the vowels of gallows
confessions: soon you’ll see
buttons mushroom like tiny

nipples on one side, black
& white keys start to show
like chicken bones on the other,

& the bellows concertina
as they breathe. And if you
were born beneath a bad sign,

or boast a lineage of hucksters
& carnival barkers, if no one
you know has been touched

by luck or grace, if you’ve drifted
through your life for years
an accordion may choose you

to bear it, & if you pick it up
after much has come to naught
a music of motion & full

of shadows will begin, a music
for when the president’s statue
is pulled down by a rope,

for when the people waltz
though the town square, or when
the cinema catches fire,

& film strips blizzard the air,
alive with the faces of the dead,
everyone catching beautiful faces

on their tongues, at last
you have an heirloom to pass
to your kids, who will ignore it

until your wake, which will
have lots of parking, & all
the music in the world.

Copyright © 2019 Mark Wagenaar. This poem originally appeared in Poetry Northwest, Winter & Spring 2019. Used with permission of the author.