The Muse Will Come Back
O, how you once pined for her.
And an answered prayer can be a curse.
You are walking away from the wreck.
Out of gas, tires flat, knuckles scraped bald
From useless fumbling with your tools from the boot,
You beg the Goddess to appear, appear,
Unheeding of the risk of calling her back.
Stranded here at the midpoint of life. The road
Stretches out in a ribbon of dirt receding to a vanishing point.
Not a poet anymore,
You’re dry as a whale coughed up onto the sand,
With no Jonah in you to speak of,
Walking toward redemption like a mirage.
Something beckoning you.
You pray to her to come back to save you.
The Muse will come back to you,
But when she comes back, she will be
An angry lover seeking to
Settle what’s owed her;
For you may have been done with the Muse,
But she was never done with you yet.
Your fleet automobile shall have died like your visions did.
But In a knot of trees ahead she’ll wait for you.
O, brave you, you think to stride in the hot noon sun
To seek for petrol, or to call on contracted aid, some
Triple club or other; some trusted advocate,
Some membership. Some alma matre.
But find you are as far from help,
As orphaned as a dry poet can be.
The canker of a sun as bleak, as blistering
As a mother’s critical stare,
Red dust in the still air.
You might head for
Those trees at the near horizon,
High summer, a thick, green and moist woody smell—
but are they sentinels or are they survivors,
Who shall know which— who can tell?
And then you’ll see her.
She’ll be in the golden cuirass
That you gave her long ago.
Your heart in your throat, you’ll grow drunk
In a sudden spell of anomie.
She’ll stand there astride her own shadow.
Her red eye hidden by her hair, only her lips can you see
As wet and alluring as Circe’s lips.
Same hidden face that drove old Oedipus blind
And that turnt Odysseus’ men to pigs
And that sent you all shouting nonsense all
Those years ago
Out naked and alone
Into bleak wind, into the flinty distance.
She levels that hairy gaze at you.
Cyclops, Hydra, or Princess Grace,
Who shall know which— who can tell?
You halt in your tracks. No tow service will appear,
Come save you here, nothing left to tow now but tristia.
Like poor Ovid before you, dead
In exile, but yours now finally done,
Replaced by a fission of thoughts
That scald your head
She says you are hers again
From here on out to a distance.
A terrible weight of verse
Comes now into you unbidden,
With nothing now but fall at her feet, atone.
She wields the remorseless knife of metaphor that
Pares away flesh from middling bone.
You shrink again from that dark head of hers
Erotic lips, ocean eyes obscured,
Terrible that head that can
Mark you as hers again and hers alone,
Makes you shiver as you hear your mistress
Command you to your knees again. Atone,
For she is death, yet another persona—
Nothing this time to barter yourself with.
Walking away from wreckage
There is only what you walk toward,
A bleak Socratic reductio beside
A lonesome road through woods,
A final lyric syllogism;
What is now a game of truth
In the trees, the place she’s chosen, her truth:
That you are hers again. The road is empty
Both ways, and yes,
You’ve left your wreck
So far back in dust and heat
That nothing but cicadas
Are left to sing any other praise.
So now gather your wits and sing for her.
So be you resigned now to sing for her.
And she’s come back now to have you sing.
And nothing, nothing between you two is done
Until she says it is.
Rayfield A. Waller – with gratitude to the young poet Javon Kellogg for helping me gather my courage to face the Muse.
Rayfield A. Waller. Detroit, Michigan, United States. Waller is a poet, cultural critic, labor activist, and political journalist who is a professor of literature, history, and the social sciences at Wayne State University and Wayne County Community College in the postindustrial city of Detroit, Michigan.