To the Chief Musician
The world puts forth its crying,
hurled into the future’s morning after.
A cold wind flays the trees.
Leaves whirl with the crows,
their dark sayings shining
to any ear inclined. I hear
the shards of voices, hearken
unto a void that words believe
yet cannot know. A notion
of wind and leaves and crows
sutures the mind against the dimmest
glimmer of laughter lining each day—
a token of hope
that the flayed can turn
a cold wind golden.
Each morning the scrub jay proclaims
something I’ve forgotten something
sacred something wholly
Not in his tongue does the fallacy exist
only in my translation of it?
Perched at my desk I watch him
outside on a live oak branch.
and then he drops to the lawn to eat a grub
or grab an acorn which he stores
always out of sight.
I’ve read that he can recall
up to two hundred caches the type of food in each and
its rate of decay.
refracted by symbolic action are all I have
to know birds by.
In his sermon St. Francis accused some birds
(“ye neither sow nor reap”)
but they in gratitude expressed their joy
by motion and by sounds—
those sweet ones
we call song— unlike the screech
of the scrub jay on his branch
tilting his head as he watches me
with one dark eye as if to say Why
do you not understand my speech?
And if I could bring myself to answer:
Because I cannot hear your word you
whose lineage is land whose element is air
foundry of your voice
molding all sound
to its likeness both wondrous and strange.
If all that I can understand were all there is . . .
but no the jay is otherwise
a something I cannot translate or touch.
What won’t suffice
Must and that fact draws me to my desk
where distracted by the racket outside
within the limit of this language
I rejoice in its failing
in the mind’s grateful
graceful sense of boundary—
that I am favored with
whoso it thought
its burst and botherView Page
consider some mother’s came side-born
this world brought other victims
& they would be least words to us
to many & of me
enter now leafborn consider
how worshiped was the serpent in the hole
the wolf bad as he they declared
or it consider or born they consider
he name forth as a such
until the strangeness is
invisible little wave catch what is fell
& least to touch & half polluted
point to those as yet by lettered forgetting
own the one unlikely
thought across the notes
gone beyond flowers O purpleward horizon
where we wait to call it language
exhaust into yolk the beautiful beast of it
with ear to hear earth-
breath will wren thee
sung in unknowing
myself a traveler passed like rain
a song here hoping up somewhere
the is once returned to it
into a lost
the lair lips the birth peace in the limbs
of the horse in the scale of the snake
forever savage the meaning
& whoso would it enter
be as thou & bid come
& betwixt pains dwell surely
be they hid as oft as thou
before it were such lord
Joshua McKinney is the author of three books of poetry. His work has appeared in Boulevard, Denver Quarterly, Kenyon Review, New American Writing, Poetry International, Volt and many other journals.