Double Elegy

By Michael S. Harper b. 1938
Whatever city or country road   
you two are on
there are nettles,
and the dark invisible
elements cling to your skin
though you do not cry
and you do not scratch
your arms at forty-five degree angles   
as the landing point of a swan
in the Ohio, the Detroit River;

at the Paradise Theatre
you named the cellist
with the fanatical fingers
of the plumber, the exorcist,
and though the gimmicky at wrist   
and kneecaps could lift the seance   
table, your voice was real
in the gait and laughter of Uncle   
Henry, who could dance on either   
leg, wooden or real, to the sound   
of the troop train, megaphone,   
catching the fine pitch of a singer   
on the athletic fields of Virginia.

At the Radisson Hotel,
we once took a fine angel
of the law to the convention center,   
and put her down as an egret
in the subzero platform of a friend—
this is Minneapolis, the movies
are all of strangers, holding themselves   
in the delicacy of treading water,   
while they wait for the trumpet   
of the 20th Century Limited
over the bluff or cranny.
You two men like to confront.
the craters of history and spillage,   
our natural infections of you   
innoculating blankets and fur,   
ethos of cadaver and sunflower.

I hold the dogwood blossom,
eat the pear, and watch the nettle   
swim up in the pools
of the completed song
of Leadbelly and Little Crow   
crooning the buffalo and horse   
to the changes and the bridge   
of a twelve-string guitar,
the melody of “Irene”;
this is really goodbye—
I can see the precious stones
of embolism and consumption
on the platinum wires of the mouth:
in the flowing rivers, in the public baths   
of Ohio and Michigan.

Michael S. Harper, “Double Elegy” from Healing Songs for the Inner Ear. Copyright © 1971 by Michael Harper. Reprinted with the permission of University of Illinois Press,

Source: Healing Songs for the Inner Ear (University of Illinois Press, 1971)

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Poet Michael S. Harper b. 1938

Subjects Nature, Music, Death, Living, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Elegy

 Michael S. Harper


Acclaimed poet and teacher Michael S. Harper was born in 1938, in Brooklyn, New York. Known his innovative use of jazz rhythms, cultural allusion, historical referent and personal narrative, Harper is “a deeply complex poet whose mission is to unite the fractured, inhumane technologies of our time with the abiding deep well of Negro folk traditions,” said John Callahan in the New Republic. Harper does this, noted Poetry reviewer . . .

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SUBJECT Nature, Music, Death, Living, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Elegy

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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