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Sample Poems by David Hathwell

Orchestra, Advanced

Safe passage to character and culture
only to them, our dreaming elders.
For us, the wandering young,
fifty minutes’ reprieve guaranteed
(attendance required) from the day’s
grim drills of ordered aimlessness,
the weight of unsafe silences.

Having no eye for elevation,
we watched the score before us
and now and then the wagging wand
beyond, counted as we tapped out beats,
marking time until our coded cue—
then struck, bowed, plucked, or blew.
How good to be an oboe once a day.

In those rising exclamations above all,
where, from heightened watchfulness,
we looked to the truth of rhythm and
pitch, touch and timbre to mute
distinction, level difference—find
our voices in the massing sound,
knowing when to speak and how.

When Musicians Applaud

When musicians applaud, they do the oddest thing.
To praise the command of the maestro,
Or the skill of another member of the ranks,
These masters of music and decorum—
Masters of movement in time—
Abandon all art to pound their feet
Against the soundboard of the stage.

Nothing civil now. Close by—in the next hall—
A band of rebels tramples the palace floor,
Mouths mute for stealth, weapons raised;
Or farther off, in the shadows of a forest haunt,
The gathered pack beats bark, drum, and gourd
To celebrate the kill—no rise to a climax
Then decrescendo, no easing to a cadence,
Just explosive start and stop.

It must be that they still are as they were,
Before melody was added, and room for silence,
And the power found in the single beat
To marshal breath and muscle, joint and limb
In the making of a long, shaped, concerted sound.

Recalled to their task, the forces rally now—
Hang poised within their ranks until, at the signal
From the leader, they raise their instruments again
And together celebrate beauty.


Surely this one is meant for our delight—
When, hidden in the green, a hundred butterflies,
Catching a breeze, flutter sage and silver wings
In tethered flight—or a dozen veiled limbs,
Lifting in the wind, swing their lavish weave
Of flashing bangle, leaf, and twig coyly
In and out of sight.

Hard, that is, to see within the lovely show
Economies of growth, accommodated
Circumstance—to recognize the play of leaf
And branch, the rich invention of their repertoire,
As strategies devised by chance to ease
The take of air and light.

For pleasure freely taken, all due thanks—
Applaud the accidental show. All honor
To the spectacle—clearest to the nourished eye—
Of gratifying need: the appetite for abundance,
The will to sense and feed.

The Pigeon Is a Shoe

Artful decoy at the curb,
working its spell from forty feet—
a straight-line pull across the pavement,
gait steadied by stony resignation, eyes forward.

And the pigeon is only a shoe.
Really an ankle boot, I see, the neck
folded to the toe. The leather slumps,
a dead white worn to gray along the body.

So I’m spared the memory of a bird—
on this corner, at this hour,
with or without visible injury—
and, too close, the stark look of afterlife.

Though here comes a cat from months ago,
on its side on a hearth at Guerrero
and Fourteenth, here it is among the bins,
a calico stretched out lazily in the early afternoon,
its mouth open, baring the smallest teeth,
and a split pomegranate at the neck.