Ode to the Duduk

- 1951-
It’s not the wind I hear driving south
 
through the Catskills—it’s just bad news from the radio
 
and then a hailstorm morphs into sunlight
 
—look up and there’s—
an archipelago of starlings trailing some clouds—
 
But how does the wind come through you
primordial hollow—unflattened double reed—
 
so even now when bad news comes with the evening report—
I can press a button on the dashboard and hear your breath implode
 
the way wind blows through the slit windows of a church in Dilijan,
 
then a space in my head fills with a sound that rises from red clay dust roads
and slides through your raspy apricot wood—
 
Hiss of tires, wet tarmac, stray white lines
night coming like wet dissolve to pixilation—
 
Praise to the glottal stop of every hoarse whisper, every sodden tree
which speaks through your hollow carved wood—
 
so we can hear the air flow over starlings rising and dipping as
       	the mountains glaze the sun—
 
so we can hear the bad news kiss the wind through your whetted reed—

More by Peter Balakian

Waiting for a Number

words appeared as the soft purring of a cat, crow screeching, 
end of a hymn, cicadas in treesspilling in the white 
noise of my headDa Nang Mekong Saigon Nam.

I walked suburban streets to school, hi-fi blasting Somebody To Love
coach meting out orders, my playbook of fakes and jives, 
my head swelling in the helmet. Over sweet cocktails with my beloved 

under the yellowing gingkoes of 64th off Lex, for a moment I felt 
grown up and then the air in my head was orange chemical Dow 
and DuPont, the juke box blasting Light My Fireand where were we?

staring at the image: pistol to the head, a boy I once knew 
on the white-lined field was bagged
and flown back in the dioxin haze of morning.

In the mangrove of my head chopping sounds 
under the covers, rice pattiesfloating mirrors with unidentified
objects. There were Catholics in Saigon and Catholics on my street,  

what about Laos? what about Cambodia? 
American questions spilling in sunlight on white 
shutters, and I’m home on plush carpet waiting for a number.

Related Poems

& Later,

—after “Trumpet,” Jean-Michel Basquiat


the broken sprawl & crawl
of Basquiat’s paints, the thin cleft

          of villainous pigments wrapping 

each frame like the syntax
          in somebody else’s relaxed

explanation of lateness: what had
          happened was.
Below blackened

crowns, below words crossed out
to remind of what is underneath:

          potholes, ashy elbows, & breath

that, in the cold, comes out in red light

& complaint shapes— 3 lines
          from the horn’s mouth
in the habit of tardy remunerations.

All of that 3-triggered agitation,

all that angry-fingered fruition   

like Indianapolis’s 3-skyscrapered smile
when the sun goes down & even

the colors themselves start talking

          in the same suspicious idiom
          as a brass instrument—

thin throat like a fist,

          flat declinations of pastors
& teachers at Christmas in the inner city.

Shoulders back & heads up when
playing in holiday choir of hungry

          paints, chins covered
in red scribbles in all of the songs.