the blind musician handed me a simple reed flute
and said he would see me later, promising me
the secret of creation. my fingers fluttered stupidly
across its holes, some clogged with dirt or dust.
sunlight shifted high above those storied branches
and i pursed my mouth and blew the first note
on my downhill stroll through that alpine forest.

each note i played thereafter passed through the fingers
of my lips like beads connected on a string of silence
and my song was born like a fledgling’s first song—
the same warbling notes its species will repeat
in their unpeopled dreams of mating, a birdsong
unsung inside the egg under
the bluewhite eye of the sky.

in memory of joseph westley newman

the russian plate spinner

at the peak of his obligations
races the maze of dowel rods —
thirteen in all upright
from 5 to 7′ tall, and him crouching like
groucho marx, dashing from pole to pole
to pole, his neck arched back
in concentration, his throat muscular
like that of a sword-swallower
or a goose in the act of gavage.

he gives each slender rod a quick jiggle
to level the wobble of its topmost plate —
thirteen in all, each hand-made and center-dimpled
(fired and glazed in a hellish kiln
in some nameless potemkin village
where uranium was early brought to mine
long before chernobyl).

his frantic race
to maintain the spinning of the thirteen plates
goes on until the wee hours of morning —
such is his obsession — until he buckles
after the orchestra has quit the pit,
the audience dispersed, the doors latched shut,
switches thrown, the stage lights killed,
the cumbersome curtain lowered —
exhausted and exiled in the dark.

all the while in perpetual motion,
defiant of gravity, aloft
in the velvety theater of night
thirteen spinning discs hum and hover —
their luminosity on the edge of perception.

John Alspaugh’s book of poetry, Everything Dark Is a Doorway, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and for the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society. He received the National Society of Arts & Letters Award for Poetry, judged by the late John Ciardi. Shortlisted for the Peter Taylor Prize, one of Alspaugh’s early novel manuscripts reflects his Southern roots yet remains unpublished. The Lost Parade— a limited edition collection of short fiction, poetry, & original artwork — was nominated for The Story Prize and was shortlisted for the Library of Virginia 12th Annual Literary Awards. He is at work on two new novels and a collection of short stories.