Oliver de la Paz

Aubade with a Thistle Bush Holding Six Songs

A man told me that he had wasted his life. I did not know him.
We were on a train moving from one trespass to the next,
the fields in the windows shifting utterly into daybreak.
He told me about the guitar he bought with a little cash
saved at odd jobs, how he could not play but kept the thing
as a symbol for failure.
All I know about this man was that his hat sloped over his eyes
and the way he kept his hands close,
as if holding a sparrow with few songs left in its throat.
The rails below us were making comparisons
as if they were saying look at the thorn tree gone wild,
look at the gravel kicked on the ties.
I wondered about the hollow of the guitar and of the voice of the man.
It’s always like this on trains‹the burn of your ear
when a stranger speaks over the sun cutting through windows.
I was like ashes without feeling. I was like the worse wrong of pity,
like rain on metal railings. I didn’t listen to his story,
though that was his gift. He wanted something brave
and so passed a breath through my ear, too warm for the hour.
I looked past the man through the window and saw three birds
on a thistle bush blur by, then another three flying from somewhere
and thought of the six strings on this man’s guitar. Each note
the name of a stranger who’s asked me for an ear. Each note like dawn
pouring through the windows. Some names rise.
Some names are left at the station. They can wear cheap suits
or drink sweet wine, but it’s the story of the name‹those birds
stuck to a thistle. And how they sang, how they sang.

Oliver de la Paz
Aubade with a Thistle Bush Holding Six Songs was first published in Crab Orchard Review, Winter/Spring 2004.
Poem, copyright © 2004 by Oliver de la Paz
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2004, From the Fishouse