I was playing my tunes all by myself;
I didn't know anybody else
who could play along.

Sure, the tunes were sad—
but sweet, too, and wouldn't come
until the day gave out: you know

that way the sky has of dangling
her last bright wisps? That's when
the ache would bloom inside

until I couldn’t wait; I knelt down
to scrape myself clean
and didn’t care who heard.

Then came the shouts and whistles,
the roundup into jars, a clamber of legs.
Now there were others: tumbled,

clouded. I didn’t know their names.
We were a musical lantern;
children slept to our rasping sighs.

And if now and then one of us
shook free and sang as he climbed
to the brim, he would always

fall again. Which made them laugh
and clap their hands. At least then
we knew what pleased them,

and where the brink was.

Copyright © 2012 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Callaloo. Used with the permission of the poet.