The Orpheus Variations
1. In Which He Turns With Intent

When we were almost out, all I could think  
Was they can’t really let me take her—  
Can they? And when I heard
The rasp of her shade on a fern near the cave mouth,

I knew she was still there, I had to turn,
I knew I couldn’t bring her back,
Because it wasn’t her
But grief that I loved with such passion that kingdoms

Were moved by its sad music. Should the source
Prove hollow, then the music must.
And if I now shun women,  
It’s not for Eurydice’s sake, but for theirs.  


2. In Which He Turns Inward

Somewhere in the night a woman
Carried a burden into the lake.  

I remember the snow settling
Like sleep. Cars turning onto the shore road

Must have thrown her ropes of light.  
And the radio in her apartment  

Clearing its throat for days, her phone
Ringing, the sun gleaming elaborately

On the cold white skin of the city.  
When they came for her things,

Their narrow voices widened
Like the pupils of trapped animals.  

Of all the tricks of memory, the cruelest  
Is accuracy. In the empty street below,

A limo passes, bass notes pulsing, the rest  
Of its song lost. As clouds of exhaust  

Rise toward halogen moons, I hear  
The door that’s always gently clicking

Shut behind me, and I find myself
Climbing, again, my incomplete notion  

Of her skirt-covered thighs, uncovering
All the lies I should have told her.


3. In Which He Never Turns

Emerging, my flesh firming again, I gasped
Like a fish in the scalding air. I touched my face
And blinked until the wall of light gave way
To shapes: a tree, and beside the tree a man,
Kneeling and weeping. Then the words returned:
Weeping and man and tree. And like a tide  
Flowing back to a marsh across cracked mud,
My thick blood moved again. My ankle hurt...  

His music, for a time, was a light thing  
Balancing the exhausting gravity of flesh.  
But sadness always was his heart’s true song,
And one day, after a flimsy argument,  
His flat I wish I’d never come for you
Brushed past my own I wish you’d never too.


4. In Which He Turns, Afterward, to a Young Man

The past—that’s where you’ll find your paradise.
Why look here? Or think now about the cost?

I found my own in what I thought was hell,
But only after I, alone, had crossed

Back. Whatever lies before you now
Won’t have been paradise until it’s lost.  


5. In Which He Turns Away from Himself

He heard her brush against a fern,  
And though he didn’t mean to turn,  
He turned; she vanished into mist.

Clutching at air, he woke and found her,
Breathing, beside him in their bed.
He felt as though he’d risen from

Deep water, heart thrashing the tight
Drums of his lungs, into this air
That tasted of salt and absolution.  

He slipped soundlessly from their bed,  
Walked down the hall, past the glossy
(Framed like some ancestral portrait)

Of him on stage with his old band,
Into the kitchen, where he brewed  
A pot of coffee, took two cups  

From the cabinet, and brought them back
To the dark room, their tails of vapor
Rising and curling quickly away.  
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