Poetry

To Each Light of Which I Am a Brother

G. C. Waldrep

Brown Lodge No. 22, A.F. & A.M., Arrow Rock, Mo.

In the disused lodge hall I am listening for the sound of brightness,
  which has breadth. Not the sound of fire, which has depth.
The candidates line up, as if for inspection.
Even in a small house objects (mostly small objects) may be hidden.
Light reaches through to where the gavels once lay. Is brightness,
      then, a pedestal, were we to approach it.
Miltonic light, not bright exactly, but in conversation with bright
      ness. It can pierce milk, assert ancient authorities.
Peephole with its handmade cover like a raindrop, a drop of milk,
      mercury, or blood. At certain times one would swing the cover
      wide & view the other. Admit or deny.
Brightness, not the same as whiteness though often mistaken for it
      in two-dimensional representations.
The sound the gavels made, wood against wood, word against
      word.
I recognize fire by the absence of fire, & the depths from which that
      absence emerges.
House by house, tales of houses being moved, by mule team, on
      log rollers. Everything here is both palimpsest & tabernacle.
The material is the wholly necessary part, where both inception &
      reception of sound are concerned.
I sat quite still & let my blood work it out for me.
If I had a prism in this place, what would I see (through it) (or,
      otherwise). The worn wood, a fossil, photosynthetic reach
      locked into its last amplitude.
To purify the sounds, to wash them clean—how?
I make no mistakes. Or, the mistakes I make become my cisterns,
      my lovers, split migration around which the bright ships canter.
Push back the latch & search the depths. (We say “depths,” plural—
      why?)
Electricity, neither brightness nor fire, its surface hum: we tolerate
      it, & much more.
I listen for measure, for the instruments of measure. Topolithic, a
      word I absorbed without being subject to what we call pain,
      also grammetry.
Rolled glass of the old windows seeking the center but so slowly.
      Brightness in its many modulations: can’t be handled.
At this point a prayer may be offered (among the many desolations
      already mentioned, for instance children, my own or others’).
I take a deep breath, sound a B-flat, more or less. It leaps the baffles
      matter presents, it magnifies.
In the rear of the derelict dwelling a scrap of sheet music was found:
      a hymn I knew. Scored for voice, for neither fire nor brightness,
      that is, for the human.
The vitrine, which promises both attention & safety, falsely. I breathe
      on it, I bend closer.
Shout at the fire if you like.
Friendship, association, these common aims, you must make some-
      thing of something, as out of nothing.
I rest my living body on the bodies of others.
Does rest make a sound, & if so, how can we hear it, what prosthetic
      do we use. I see you with my hearing, as upon a narrow ladder.
Value, a test.
Comfort ye, my people (says your God). Not a ladder, but a filter.
      Not a rudder, but a wine. Inheritance, subject to arbors.
I imagine—no, it is not the time for imagining.
Brightness, which knows time as periodicity & decay, two vagrant
      nodes.
Everything here could be so rapidly returned to oxygen & carbon.
      & yet, for a little while—
I strengthen my aloneness in the midst of the fast. I prepare my
      rituals, this & divers others.
This one, though. You blow into it, as if it contained a single burn-
      ing taper. You measure yourself against precisely this.
All the gavels have been broken, surely: at any rate they are no
      longer here.
And the wasps’ nest: what does it do? Effloresce? Genuflect?
You see me, but do you recognize me (is a question). The altars con-
      structed of symbols & flesh, as per tradition. You offer—what?
Not forgetting the impact of a series of disastrous floods & fires, nor
      the violence man does to man. Empathy, that outlier, elliptical.
Address your elders thus, as you have been instructed.
Now the brightness in its bathing-state stays, remands itself. It has,
      in truth, known fire, & fire’s hollow drum.
The death to which I’m promised, does it know me here (I slide the
      peephole cover back into place).
Matter is sonant; spirit is—something else. Something full, towards
      which the risks align. It receives matter cordially: Yes. You are
      welcome.

G. C. Waldrep is a poet whose books include The Earliest Witnesses and feast gently, winner of the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. Waldrep lives in Lewisburg, PA, where he teaches at Bucknell University.
Originally published:
June 28, 2021

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