The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Rose Solari


        after Frank O'Hara, in memoriam, Shirley Horn, 1934-2005

I was on my way to give a poetry reading
with Reuben and Nancy and some people
I didn't know, and I was running late, and
on the car radio WPFW was playing
Shirley Horn's version of  "Green"--a song

I used to think was silly, until she made me
hear it--and I thought, this is a good omen, I'll
make it on time. Then the DJ played "You
Won't Forget Me," and I remembered the first
time I heard it, how she'd turned me to putty
before the opening verse, a luminous eternity,
was over.

She was beginning "Here's
to Life," when I thought, oh.

When I got
to the reading, Reuben had already heard
the news, and we talked about her and D.C.,
about her and Miles, about how she never
in her lifetime got the fame that she deserved,
how it should have been different. And I
don't recall just what was playing on the way
home--"Fever?" "But Beautiful?"--when I
started crying, seeing her walk into One Step Down
on the arm of her bassist, beautiful Charles,
on New Year's Eve, late, of course, which was

the whole point--  
how she kept us
waiting, while she shrugged off her mink
and settled herself at the keyboard, lifting
her face up and into the circle of light
at the mike as if she could taste it, and nodding
once, slowly, at Charles, while we held our breath.  


Somewhere between four and five a.m., the soul
gets restless, leaves the body. You wake

to the kite-string tug, know all you can do
is wait, filling the time with books,

self-scrutiny, or scotch until that filament of self
settles back in.
          Years ago, you had a chance

for a different life. A door opened, but you
were looking elsewhere, listening to someone's

bad advice, and didn't hear the hinge creak,
the voice whispering, this way. Or perhaps

you did, but thought your chances infinite, told
yourself you'd come back.

You could always

come back. Those are the breaks, your mother would say
if she heard you now, and she'd be right. But

sometimes, you know you see it, that unlived life. It passes
quick, in the corner of your eye. You glimpse yourself,

what you might have been, a face that could be
but is not your own. She isn't angry. But she knows

everything you have missed, and is writing it down.


The hard-hooved, thick-furred bodies packed
so tight with themselves there is no room

for doubt. The dark tulips of heads, holding
the otherworldly eyes. Three points

of an open arrow they cross high grass, bending
the wind on their silken ears, or wrestle

in pairs--forelegs raised in friendly threat--then
collapse into each other, their small horns

touching. Unable to see the failure in myself,
I thought the world had let me down. Only

the goats, in their indifference, helped. For almost
thirteen months, I gave myself to them

as you, entranced, might sacrifice days and nights
to a newborn child or a foreign city. I mapped

their devouring search for weeds and water; I memorized
the ancient shapes of shadows their bodies cast;

I lulled myself, when I could not sleep, with
the sweet and sober music of their footfalls.


Dionysus would slap you silly
if he could see you now--sniffing
and twirling and sipping and, dear god,
spitting it out. What mortal arrogance,
the mess you've made of his gift. Now,

let's start over. Throw back your head
and drain this puny glass with one loud gulp.
Then send--no, roar--for a cup carved
out of animal horn, deep enough that
when you reach the bottom, you'll see

two horns, two hands, two mouths. Then
you'll be worthy to grab the woman
on your left--who feels, as you do, now,
the rush of sweet blood to the brain and to
the thighs--and put your grape-stained mouth

to hers. We are, all of us, nothing more
than empty vessels that the god can fill
with his heart-made, heart-poured wine. Drink,
you fool, and love. Become divine.

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