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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.