Paul Guest

The Amplified World

A poem about Led Zeppelin would begin

with hair, and sweat, hard

light, motion in blur.  On the radio

the night is all summer, and starry;

the light falls perfectly slanted upon the road

and nothing rises to check the speeding world.

The boys in the car would drop

their amplified world to know

that hum.  Angelic text, that glottal

catch in the throat we call the rising heart—

and somewhere at no distance

someone sings.  Faint love is shoved

aside in the wake of each chord:

the world itself hears nothing

so beautiful as this, imperfect and awful.

Bone, blood, muscle, padding of fat, our bodies

compose what ends us; we know

our deaths in the mirror when we look

long enough.  That my uncle died

in his underwear, so large

he was fearfully dragged on a sheet

down the stairs, and at his funeral

had wished “Stairway to Heaven” played

was funny to some in my family,

who rolled their eyes, who hid with fans

their breaking faces and homeward

could count the miles but not their grief—

“that drug song” went on forever,

longer even than the flames which made him ash.

Ash in an urn, pounded fine

with something like a rake—

a crematorium hardly burns white enough

to reduce the large dead

to nothing, faint grey scrim once human,

for whom we say await

a new heaven and a new earth,

the obviated body made perfect once more.

A poem about mercy would end

in song, bashful aria of the loner

free and clear.  Like water.  Like glass.

Like nothing.  It’s forgotten skill, art unpracticed.

Host of angels, sing shame

back to us if you exist, and bear the dead

better than we manage:  descending

half naked from life, we sing

what we loved while we could,

for as long as it ever lasted.  Not forever.



‘The Amplified World” first appeared in Pleiades.