Today's poem is by Sydney Lea
I Was Thinking of Beauty
for Gregory Wolfe
I surrender myself to Charles Mingus. I'm spinning Tijuana Moods
on my obsolete record machine, sitting quiet as I sat last night
when I was thinking of beauty, and the grief it's faced since the day
that somebody named it. Plato, I thought. Aquinas. The tablets
that Yahweh handed to Moses, including the famous stricture
on graven image. Last evening, some noted professor was speaking
about what he said would be "The Corrupting Power of Beauty"
in a campus town to our south. It appeared that the speaker believed
his jargon might help the poor, and his lecture actually serve
to help undo the cruel abuses of capitalism
which pays his wage at the college where he instructs the young,
who, as surely he knows, will soon be brokers and bankers.
He was hard above all on poems, though after the briefest mention,
all poetry seemed to vanish, gone before we knew it.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," the professor quoted. He frowned,
explaining how such a claim made for loathsome politics.
I'm afraid I got lost. Outside, the incandescent snow
of February sifted through a dim-lit quadrangle's elms,
hypnotic. Tonight as I sit alone and listen, the trumpet
on "Tijuana Gift Shop" lurches with fabulous syncopations.
That's the rare Clarence Shaw, who vanished one day. Mingus heard
he was teaching hypnosis later on. But back again to last night:
I got thinking of Keats composing and coughing, of Abbey Lincoln,
Lorrain and Petrarch, Callas, Isaac Stern. I got lost
in memory and delight, both terms no doubt nostalgic.
And I summoned out of nowhere a dead logger-friend's description
of cedar waxwings in autumn on the bright mountain ash by his door.
I remembered the way at ninety he called those verdigris birds
"such well-groomed little fellers:' Which wasn't eloquent, no,
but what passion he showed in the way he waved his work-worn hands
as he thought of beautywhich, in our noted guest's opinion,
was nothing but a drug. And yet I went on for no reason
to think of Maori tattoos, elaborate and splendid,
of Jamaicans shaping Big Oil's rusty, abandoned barrels
to play on with makeshift mallets, toxic junk turned tuneful.
"The poor you have always with you," said an even more famous speaker,
supreme narcotics dealer no doubt in our own speaker's eyes
which must never have paused to behold a bird, just for example;
whose ears had deafened themselves to the song of that bird, or any.
Beauty, he said in conclusion, was something from which we must wean
the poor, ourselves as well. But I was still thinking of beauty
as something bound to returnhere's Clarence's trumpet again
outlasting our disputations. I was thinking it never had gone.
Copyright © 2009 Sydney Lea All rights reserved
from the Southern Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission
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