Near the 1911 Revolution monument
listening to music, a woman
in a maroon puff jacket
wipes away tears.
I don’t know what the singer,
seated on the open colonnade of middle age,
is singing. I don’t know what notes are rising
like attar off roses
out of the erhu and mandolin.
I don’t know
specifically which heartstrings are being tugged or plucked,
those that make us consider
poets sepulchered in moonlit rivers
or those that make us frown
on a rain shower through sunbeams.
If we emerged from cocoons deaf and blind
with teachings of old masters woven into our skin,
would the light make sense? would the music?
Whether we are being manipulated like puppets
with our hand-stitched smiles and patched-up cheeks
or if this serenade is for us to raise our droopy lids
at a sky streaked with rockets and reflection,
who can say? I only know these dulcet notes
are enough to moisten an old woman’s eyes
and pierce the silk screen over a lost half-century
with arrows no straw boat can catch,
landing with a sniffle and plink
— just the noise one makes
when stripped clean, emptied out,
tied to the diapason of life’s full slate,
guilt and zither, mulberry and shame,
charcoal and snow, tinder and chassis.
You could surmise our singer was singing for the self,
or the moment, or pining upon frost,
her throat arranging the melisma of Gregorian chants
she never knew existed,
or that she debated ancient sages under rustling trees
who fashion themselves born from eggs
and say friendships die, the prana survives,
but I believe
she has her own myths unhitched to past or culture,
she is a mermaid from a turquoise lake
and with each kick surges
until she surfaces,
shedding dead skin, salt, incipits,
leaving the decision of heaven and earth’s benevolence
to dogs. She is not a phoenix
or nude white crane but
an obstreperous goose, risen.
That happens in the next verse. If only
you knew how to listen.