An Octave Above Thunder
... reverberation Of thunder of spring over distant mountains He who was living is now dead We who were living are now dying With a little patience. --T. S. Eliot, "What the Thunder Said" 1 She began as we huddled, six of us, in the cellar, raising her voice above those towering syllables... Never mind she cried when storm candles flickered, glass shattered upstairs. Reciting as if on horseback, she whipped the meter, trampling rhyme, reining in the reins of the air with her left hand as she stood, the washing machine behind her stunned on its haunches, not spinning. She spun the lines around each other, her gaze fixed. I knew she'd silenced a cacophony of distractions in her head, to summon what she owned, rote-bright: Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit... of the flower in a crannied wall and one clear call... for the child who'd risen before school assemblies: eerie Dakota rumble that rolled yet never brought rain breaking over the podium. Her voice rose, an octave above thunder: When I consider how my light is spent-- I thought of her light, poured willy-nilly. in this dark world and wide: half-blind, blind, a widening distraction Getting and spending we lay waste our powers...Different poem, a trick! Her eyes singled me out as the wind slowed. Then, reflective, I'd rather be / a Pagan sucked in a creed outworn / than a dullard with nothing by heart. It was midsummer, Minnesota. In the sky, the Blind Poet blew sideways, his cape spilling rain. They also serve! she sang, hailing closure as I stopped hearing her. I did not want to stand and wait. I loathed nothing so much as the forbearance now in her voice, insisting that Beauty was at hand, but not credible. I considered how we twisted into ourselves to live. When the storm stopped, I sat still, listening. Here were the words of the Blind Poet-- crumpled like wash for the line, to be dried, pressed flat. Upstairs, someone called my name. What sense would it ever make to them, the unread world, the getters and spenders, if they could not hear what I heard, not feel what I felt nothing ruined poetry, a voice revived it, extremity.
From An Octave Above Thunder: New and Selected Poems, published by Penguin, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Carol Muske. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Carol Muske-Dukes was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on December 17, 1945. Her poetry collections include Blue Rose (Penguin, 2018), a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and Sparrow (Random House, 2003), a National Book Award finalist.
Date Published: 1997-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/octave-above-thunder