Ralph Adamo

New Orleans Elegies


The shape of the loss is fretted but not mapped.

You cannot say Elenore and have it so, nor Lindell.

But pluck the unpromising chord, pull back

the hammer, pour the residual face, listen:

an ancient bridge emerges from your heart

across whose stone logs a loud commerce rattles

day and night, of earnings lost in sport,

lives waged against a broken treadle,

the sunny loneliness of the next drink,

a picturesque adhesion at the core

where all the voices versed against the blank

look crap out and once more you’ve gone to war.


All work is not the same as the work of love

when the mind changes, as it does now,

looking up on a room suddenly not quiet —

the trill of comprehension from her page

a sound like madness — reasonable, familiar —

close enough to mine but still not touching.

But love is shy work, the clapper in a bell.

I should be scared to talk, with what I’ve said.

Does love press an image in her page,

this desiccated, wakeful old celebrant

of the invisible, breaking the law

with her mind that levels language,

with her eyes that cannot light anywhere,

with her hands that rip god out of your throat —

why would her meekness not terrify me?


Once or twice in the song I swear I was sleeping,

my head hanging from a single thread that no longer

looked much like luck or the formula for dreams,

the shy end of her toward me, a festival, a borrowing.

Once in the clear of the melody one loses the key,

it is impossible to lock the music up,a theme strikes

that this one is still helpless to close or open

although there seems to be no trick to it, no joke.

Always it yields in time to be forgotten.

I wish once we could sleep like two horses

standing side by side after a twilight feed,

eyes lashed for the night, forelegs atremble,

but just barely, with being so strongly still.