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Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Poetry from Jake Adam York
te lyra pulsa manu or something like that

As Ovid or Onomacritus—or was it Ike Turner?—said
music makes everything want to reach out of itself
rocks forgetting their gravity, birds hovering
as if become part of the air itself,
and so the pines and the olives leaning over Orpheus
as he slid the bottle along the guitar’s neck
gave up their sap and oil which is why he glistened
in the sun or the starlight and seemed to express
that brilliance, like a zoetrope or a planetarium,
and you couldn’t tell if he was gathering 
or giving it back, but that’s music, 
erupting beautiful and returning to itself at last, 
Mercury’s gift—the turtle’s gut 
strung across its desiccated shell,
a melody pulled from such concentrated silence
and returned to its bowl, making every ear
the parenthesis that separates us from persistence.
But we want to last, at least long enough
to grasp what we’ve just let go, so
the women, washing their clothes by the river,
hearing that song—its melody remembering
then forgetting every one they knew—
left their clothes to froth on the river’s shoals, 
to follow and catch and at last 
to reach inside him for what they’d lost, 
pulling everything out,
which is how music entered the human world,
a stain beneath the fingernails that tells
where you’ve been. His head, his guitar
floated down the Hebrus to the sea
were Apollo raised the strings into the night
making the turtle and the song immortal.
That, anyway, is how it was put to me 
in a juke-joint in Mississippi, as if
from Onomacritus to Ovid to Ike Zimmerman,
who taught Robert Johnson how to play,
and when someone poisoned—or was it stabbed?—
Johnson, for something he said,
like Won’t you squeeze my lemon
till the juice runs down my leg 
or I got a phonograph… back, like a breath,
into the world, the water, the earth,
the light. There is always someone there,
Ovid should have said, to tear you apart
when you get beautiful enough, first just picking
at the skin, the fingernail or tortoise-shell
plectrum a kind of tease, but then more strident,
your corona zipped off and flattened to a disc.
This is how, in these moments, when music 
coaxes everything out of itself,
when you become so attuned 
you almost hear the light, 
the pulse of the fluorescent tube 
over the bar or the cigarette machine
or the star, 900 years away,
which is really two stars, eclipsing 
then amplifying one another, this 
is how I imagine William Moore, 
after walking from Chattanooga to Gadsden, 
with the sign, Jesus Was An Alien,
taped to his caisson, his letter for Ross Barnett—
Be gracious and give more 
than is immediately demanded of you—
still folded in its envelope 
when the assassin found him,
and this is how I imagine 
Medgar Evers, not two months later, 
the pulse of the kitchen light 
reaching through the bullet hole in the window
to flicker on his skin, 
the one struck down on the night 
of the year’s first Lyrids, the meteors 
that seem to fall from the guitar in the sky
like change passersby have thrown
through the sound hole, the other
as the coins rang again on the dome of night, 
and Zimmerman in the graveyard 
where he taught Johnson how to listen, 
looking up through the trees and playing 
until the dew had fallen on him again
and he felt a music in his fingers
he hadn’t known for years…
Maybe this is not what he meant,
Ovid or Onomacritus or Ike
or whatever his name was
when he told me the story
of the original bluesman 
that night at the bar in Mississippi,
but this is how I remember it
when I see him, turning slowly
in the neon, as he reaches through the crowd, 
everyone reaching, gathering 
beneath the fingernails, this is what I remember
when he leans his head back
and I can see the beat of the artery
in his neck, this is what I hear
when I listen to the light
pulsing on his skin.

Jake Adam York is the author of three books of poems: Murder Ballads (2005, Elixir); A Murmuration of Starlings (2008, Southern Illinois University); which won the 2008 Colorado Book Award in Poetry; and Persons Unknown (2010 SIU), due out in October. He is an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver, where he co-edits Copper Nickel.

"I was invited to contribute work to a gallery show by collaborating with a scientist who was working on binary star modeling. The star my partner was working on most seriously is Beta Lyrae, and in researching the star, my mind drifted in two directions-call these the binaries of the poem-toward the lyre itself and therefore Orpheus and so Ovid et al, and the meteor showers that come 'out of' Lyra each year, one in April and another in June, months that stand out in memory from my work on a sequence of Civil Rights elegies."

Order A Murmuration of Starlings from your favorite Indie Bookseller
Issue 2, July-September 2010