The Rhythm

The beat of the pulse is the same as that of the heart;
of course, it is variable in speed.

~Arnold Dolmetsch, The Interpretation of the Music of the 17th and 18th Centuries

 

Everywhere, always, there was rhythm.

The world and its contents: rhythm

and nothing existed apart from rhythm.

He first noticed while riding

a desert highway in southern New Mexico,

where on his first day in first grade

the principal had a bullwhip hung behind her.

 

Sparse life, endless white dashes

bisected the road and

sped into mirage, uniform,

as did, off-set, rectangular

concrete blocks that composed

the roadway, and the wheels

of the car, first front, then back

thumped on joints between them

another syncopated offset,

at times lining up with the dashes

but never matching

his sight of the joint lines.

It was even and steady, a pulse,

because his father always pinned the

needle at exactly 60,

driving a complex metronome

through varied wind

in open windows, long-throated.

 

Curvatures of sand and rock

stepped into the ensemble,

unpredictable, while cactus

and brush flashed

coloration.

 

Was it sound?

Maybe it was all light,

some slowed so much

he could touch it, split

into densities, air, sand,

stone, steel, paint —

through which it moved,

moving through itself, and sent

waves that die in a vacuum.

 

There is no empty space.

Fields permeate

every dimension in

countless states and spectra.

 

He always listened like this.

On a bus, New York to Trenton,

because he couldn’t see

how to hitchhike from Manhattan

(though he hiked in

heavy snow next day)

to Weissport, PA,

and visit mom’s mom,

the whirring of fans in the window

against the long-pulse

engine drone, while in

lower registers, tires on

pavement played out a fugal voice

almost in the background

a separate fantasy

of what it should sound like

on that day.

Blizzard conditions.

A man offered him

a night’s shelter.

Once there, clear

he wanted to suck Rhosonny’s cock,

and Rhosonny decided to let him.

It was pleasant enough, and afterward

no further demand.

In the morning, he slipped on a rug

on the hardwood and sprained his ankle.

The blizzard was gone, the snow wasn’t,

and garbage trucks, plows bolted on

in front rumbled the streets.

Arrived without warning.

That evening, Mammy

opened the door. No expression, no

change in emotion, but turned and walked

to her kitchen, an old sound.

He followed. Silently she

served him a pot roast stew with

potatoes, carrots, celery, onions

and home made Pennsylvania Dutch

egg noodles, along with some pumpernickel

bread and a birch beer.

After that, a warm slice

of mince meat pie and a half-tumbler

of Old Overholdt,

Pop Pop’s whiskey

also in the mince meat

four years after he died

and she didn’t drink.

 

He brought his whiskey to the living room.

They sat, she on her chair, he on

Pop Pop’s chair.

The old, heavy wooden clock

with a grandfather face

clicking each second, a little louder

each minute, and a dull, single chime

on the hour.

 

She knitted, needles clicking

even time with the clock.

Lamps buzzed.

Wind rose and fell,

but the house stood stone still.

 

When he awoke, she was holding his hand,

pulling him up to his feet.

She led him upstairs to his bedroom,

the one from his childhood visits,

stepped out, and closed the door.

 

In the morning, she made him

ham and poached eggs with

rye toast and cottage fries.

She sat 90-degrees from him

at the small, square, wooden

table. When he began to eat

she said, “What have you been doing?”

 

He told her about flying one way to New York,

living in abandoned buildings

though now often in $2

Bowery flops, 3′ x 7′ with metal walls,

original walls knocked out of this hotel

1920s fashionable, elegant,

rooms now ceilinged in  sheets

of chicken hex wire connecting

cells under a 15 foot ceiling

and a couple dull lights,

pesticide reek and rotting men,

heavy breathing, snoring, coughing

retching throughout the night.

At least the urinals were marble…

clogged with vomit. How he’d done

shape-up work, loading trucks

or washing dishes

as a restaurant temp,

and other things.

 

He knew

that she wanted to know.

He told her the truth.

While he spoke, she gave him molasses

cookies and coffee, smoking her Pall Malls

in interested silence, except

when he told her something funny

and she jiggled all over. She had

always been fat, and she had never been

what men would call pretty.

Her laugh was a series of

Germanic “ach, ach, ach” interrupted

only by long, deep inhalations.

He’d always found her radiantly

beautiful when she laughed.

Even when she didn’t laugh, he’d

always felt that she was the most

beautiful woman he’d ever met.

 

“Do you think I should quit, just give up,

abandon New York?” His cousin had offered

to let him live with her and her husband near D.C.

“You can do anything you want,” she said.

“If you want to stay in New York, you

should just stay there.”

She gave him Tastycakes, Bavarian pretzels,

and as much coffee, birch beer, or cream soda

as he wanted. She never ate those things

Instead, an insulin shot early morning.

For lunch and supper, they ate the stew.

 

They sat most of the day and evening wordless,

listening to each other breathe, the clock,

the knitting needles.

Then she took the pins out of her black hair.

From layers and rows it fell

down her back past her waist, and she brushed,

as she had brushed it every night as far back

as he remembered, even, rhythmic strokes

from the tip of her head all of the way down

her body past her hips.

Then, methodically, she wound and folded

her hair on top of her head, pinning it in layers,

got up, said, “good night”, and walked

up stairs to bed. He sat through

most of the night reading the

Duino Elegies

 

After breakfast, she gave him $200,

and told him that she loved him.

Then there was the sound of the door closing

and his boots on the wooden steps of the porch.

It was the last time he ever saw her.