For Merry Roddenberg


What I hear

On the radio is a voice

Clear and strong,

Even a little joyous,

And a little simple-

No pop star or diva trained.

Just a girl with a guitar,

Singing with angels

I can’t see, but can feel

From the way my soul

Wants to shake its way free

Of my shoulders


They call it,

Like feathers that want to sprout,

As if that explains:

The shadow of heaven passing,

Or a sudden chill.

And I imagine you still

On the fairground midway

With your sister and the guitars

And the boy you called Arkansas

Who could play a bale of hay

You said, if he wanted.

How I envied him.


It was the time of my first car,

Of looking older than my years

And hanging around the campus commons,

A time of making flower chains

From the clover in the grass,

And wearing them in our hair

We were children who burned incense

To cover the smell

Not for prayer to some Buddha.

And there you were:

Joan Baez from Buffalo,

My first princess in a dorm,

Singing Lou Reed and some ballad

About being made to marry too young,

With a voice that rang like water

Over rocks in an April thaw.


How I must have looked

Just beyond the lights,

Intent, enraptured,

Taken away, so close,

I could feel the breath of your angel

On my neck,

A presence only the never been kissed

Can feel,

Like the apple before the bite.


At break, you stepped down

Sat in my lap

And asked me to hold you like a crucifix.


If I could erase

The fear I felt,

The words held back,

My frozen arms and my frozen hands,

I would.

But after just a moment,

You got up and left me there forever,


And it’s occurred to me just now,

In this endless drive of life,

Thirty five years after I left,

That you probably no more than I,

Knew how to hold a crucifix,

Or praise a God to his face.


Now there’s another that rides along

Beside me,

My daughter on her way to voice lessons,

And with what I hear

In my ears

I want to chide her to sing

To unseen angels

For they have followed us out into the streets

Forgetting why they came.


But I will just grab her knee,

I want to tease

And make her swat with annoyance,

For nothing I could say

Will dispel her innocence

Or intent.


And I know

As the song dwindles away,

As sure as someone stepping on my grave,

That I have been holding you

All this time

Just there, just about to be kissed,

To be held to my soul in solace,

When the road ends.