The smoky-eyed man in the old Dublin music shop
leans over the oak counter and squints at the
guitars, flutes, pennywhistles, and goatskin drums
that hang on the paneled wall like notes on wrinkled sheet music.
He adjusts his woolen cap, then lifts his whiskered chin,
in the old Irish way, towards a plain skin drum.
The shop owner takes it down, caressing it as he
hands it over, saying by way of conversation,
“A brilliant instrument, lad. Did you know what yer man says
about these drums, that there’s nothing like the sound
of a bodhran to rise the blood in a man.”
“Aye, you’re dead right,” says he, thrumming his fingers
over the taut skin while sighting a dust covered fiddle
in a dark corner of the shop. “Oh, the gypsy fiddle.
A finely burnished piece.” He lowers his voice,
“Did ye know what they say, that they’ll hold
old melodies in the wood forever? Aye, and that
a discerning, God-fearing ear can still hear them.”
The visitor furrows his brow, mutters,
“You don't say, you don't say.”
He trades the drum for the fiddle,
plucks a single string, pulls it close to his ear,
as if listening for faraway music.
“Oh, it’s grand, it’s grand,” says he.
“It sounds golden, like honey from the hive.”

On the other side of the world,
a man salvages long-drowned logs
from the peat-darkened depths of Lake Superior,
then dries, cuts and sells the iridescent wood
to violin makers for what he calls their “acoustic
resonance,” oscillating evidence of the hidden
music of the world, the saving grace of slumbering chords.
He believes in the dormant power of lost melodies
recovered from the discordant world. He trusts in
the rustling sounds wrenched from stubborn silence.
He knows there is always an undertone,
always the murmur that strengthens the soul,
the simple music within all things
that lasts, for reasons
reason cannot know.

I remember hearing
a single blue note long ago.
It slowly rose from the silty
bottom of the world. It
broke through the rippling
surface of my life
like a rapture.

It is unfathomable
I will not
hear it


Black snow fell over Sarajevo,
darkening the midday sky with ashes
from the million and a half books burning
in what was once the National library.
The old librarian raced through shell-pocked streets,
his face reddening from the torrid heat pouring
out of the knot of smoking ruins where
he had spent a lifetime rescuing words
from oblivion. Defying the snipers,
he stood on the steps of the smoldering building
wanting to save—something, anything—even
the single sheet of cindered paper that drifted towards him
through the singed air, still holding fire from the inferno.
He caught the paper, which glowed in his hand
like a black and white negative held up
to the red light inside a photographer’s darkroom.
He glared at what was once a page from a holy book,
an illuminated manuscript, and could not smell the skin
of his fingertips burning as he tried to read from what seemed
to be the last page of the last book on earth.
With time on fire, history incinerated,
the page flared, then vanished,
leaving blue and gold and red ash
on his cold, numb hands.
Staring into the fiery ruins, he began to wonder
how long it would be before he could start rebuilding.

©Phil Cousineau — All Rights Reserved

"The Music in the Wood" from The Blue Museum,
  published by Sisyphus Press, ©2004.
"Memoricide" from Night Train,
  published by Sisyphus Press, ©2004.