I’ve been thinking about Orpheus as the “first” great poet and musician. All great poetry has death or mortality as its central theme. So it is appropriate that, after he lost Eurydice, Orpheus wrote only songs about death.
The poem below is by Leslie Norris, a man who taught me more about poetry than anyone else. I hope he is still singing.
(i.m. John Ormond, died May 4th, 1990)
The border I knew best was halfway over
the bridge between the town and Breconshire.
the river’s neutral water
to other boundaries.
I walked the bridge each Saturday, stopped
at a guessed measure,
lived a moment in adventurous limbo.
Did I stand on air then, invisibly
taken to some unknown world, some nowhere?
Where was I then? I was whole
but felt an unseen line
divide me, send my strong half forward,
keep my other timidly at home.
I have always lived that way,
crossed borders resolutely
while looking over my shoulder.
Not long ago
driving in America
in high cold desert country below the Rockies,
I saw at the roadside
parked on an acre open as the moon,
a ring of shabby cars
old Chevies and Caddies,
some prosperous trucks.
The Indians were showing on folding tables
their ceremonial silver, heavy necklaces, rich
with turquoise and hammered squash-blossom, oval
Navajo and Zuni,
old tribes, hardy and skilled.
They stood behind their work in the flat wind,
I love the things they make,
haggled for a buckle for my belt,
silver, a design
rayed like the cold sun,
and, walking away, saw
cut into concrete
the meeting place of four states.
Crouched there, I placed a foot in Utah,
a foot in Arizona, my palms flat
in the dust of Colorado and New Mexico.
Restless as dust, scattered.
A man I knew, my old friend,
moved out as I did, but returned,
followed his eyes and crossed the borders
into his own country. When he left,
it was to see his place from a distance
and peacefully go home. The world grew small
for him, to one country, a city, a house.
His mother, calmly and nobly dying,
asked on her last day for champagne
which she had never tasted. She wet her lips,
and in the evening called into her room
someone unseen. “Who would have thought it,”
she said, very clearly, and crossed the border
for which all others are a preparation.
And Sally Taylor, her mother dying in the next room,
heard women’s voices, young and laughing,
come in to fetch the old lady.
Border, boundary, threshold, door––
Orpheus moved either way, the living and the dead
were parted by a thin reflection
he simply walked through. But who can follow?
For all the boundaries I have crossed, flown over,
knowingly, unknowingly, I have no answers;
but sit in the afternoon sun, under mountains
where stale snow clings in shadowy patches,
remember my friend, how he had sung,
hope he is still singing.