Sunday, September 7, 2014

Light Falls on Water

When Lou Reed died, my mind turned
To Laurie Anderson's riffs
On her "Transitory Life."

At first, it was all about Lou,
And her song sung then recorded
The lament of a widow,

Although of course she wrote it
Years before his death. I knew
As much, but heard what I liked.

Then it was all about me,
And for a couple of months
I heard the song as a dirge

For declining middle age,
Me, dour, bejowled penitent
Pretending to understand death

While clawing at trees of life,
Frantic to scramble away.
Acceptance makes poor pretense.

A feminist threnody
Is what the song became next.
I caught the doleful fragments

Referring to grandmothers
Embalmed in pancake makeup,
Baby boys preferred to girls.

This was less amenable
To a masculine ego.
The song began to recede,

But as it faded away,
The chorus interpreted
The verses ironically

And my sense of what it meant
Was tipped off balance and fell
Toward a wry mordancy.

The gleeful bankers, winners,
And sailors, the grandmother,
The never-born baby girls,

The mouse trembling in the trap,
The treasure locked in iron,
Making their nests in my ear,

The shifting pronouns, the chant,
The keening, the light that falls
On water sail through us all.

No one really needs to care
How cross-hatched phrases must mean.
No one intends to get here.

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