By Diane Lockward:
SERVICE FOR THE MURDERED BOY
In Tibet they lay their dead
on the side of a mountain.
All night I dream of the murdered boy
decomposing in the Himalayas,
laid out under a Banyan tree.
No monsoon of grief in this unarable land,
only mountains rumbling
with footsteps of tigers, snow leopards,
and moon bears. A hundred vultures fill the sky.
All circle in, nuzzle the boy with snouts and beaks,
and devour him until nothing’s left but bones
and a skull, resting on stones hard as fists.
I dream a mission of monks, roaming
the desert, spinning prayer wheels,
and searching peasant villages for the right
boy, the one birthed at the exact moment
of death. They lift the born-again buddha
and carry him home.
But my dream lasts only as long as the night.
Morning brings echoes of Ave Maria.
The father’s wearing a red jacket
with white leather sleeves, the kind
boys wear when they make the varsity team.
He leans into the mic and says,
“I don’t want to talk about the future,
or games that won’t get played,
or the boy who shot him. I want to talk
about songs that were sung.”
Then he breaks down, turns to his son
still smiling in the blown up photograph.
I don’t want church music, soft and mournful.
I want hard rock, heavy metal,
music all bass and treble, cranked up full blast,
the kind that blares out windows of cars
driven by boys, the kind that rocks
the ground and trembles the earth with their songs.
A MURMURATION OF STARLINGS
It was raining dead birds.
—Mayor Brian Levine, The Star-Ledger, 1/27/09
Starlings dropped from the sky,
mid-flight, like balloons suddenly deflated.
No time to spread their wings and glide on air,
and, synchronized, to soar and dive.
No time to close their wings, to wrap
themselves in shrouds of feathers, and sleep.
They fell like water balloons tossed blindly
from dormitory windows.
They fell like rocks dumped from the unlatched
rear end of a construction truck.
They fell like bombs, like stars, like fallen angels,
they fell like dead starlings.
Hundreds plummeted from the sky
on cars, porches, and snow-covered lawns.
They’d taken the poisoned bait
and, headfirst, dreamed one last time of England.
Birds who’d once disturbed a king’s sleep
with cries of Mortimer, Mortimer.
Memento mori, forcing us to contemplate
Do we not already think of the fallen,
earth’s fields littered with corpses?
Dark vision made real,
their glistening bodies, silent now and still.
Birds who’d sung their own song
and wooed their mates with lavender and thistle.
“Service for the Murdered Boy” is from the collection Eve’s Red Dress (Wind Publication, 2003) and “A Murmuration of Starlings” is from the collection Temptation by Water (Wind Publications, 2010). These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.
Diane Lockward is the author of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (Wind Publications, 2013) and three poetry books, most recently Temptation by Water. Her previous books are What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, and Eve’s Red Dress. Her poems have been included in such anthologies as Poetry Daily: 360 Poems from the World’s Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times, and in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Gwarlingo, and The Writer’s Almanac.
Editor’s Note: Today’s poems are, sadly, incredibly timely. I was originally drawn to “Service for the Murdered Boy” with thoughts of Michael Brown, but now both poems cry out in response to yesterday’s school shooting in Washington. Written years ago, the mourning and meditations of these poems are heartbreakingly timeless. There is a still and quiet beauty in their language and imagery, a slowing down of time that enables us to grieve. These mindful pieces reflect upon both today’s atrocities and the mourning songs that are as ancient as poetry itself. So, too, do these poems turn in upon themselves, questioning the very act of contemplating death: “Do we not already think of the fallen, / earth’s fields littered with corpses? // Dark vision made real, / their glistening bodies, silent now and still.” And they speak in chorus with those who have lost their children, to those who seek only to remember: “I don’t want to talk about the future, / or games that won’t get played, or the boy who shot him. I want to talk / about songs that were sung.”