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Firewood and Ashes - New and Selected Poems by Ben Howard

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Adagio

Howard, Ben

Call it if you must an instrument,
this meter that has served me through the decades,
its pulse an echo of my temperament,
its low-relief a match for my reserve.
But who is playing whom, I’d like to know,
feeling again the surge that would propel
the calmest, clearest mind into a maelstrom
and launch the steady heart into a vortex
where anyone could drown. In Monaghan
one April morning, I took an aimless walk,
wanting nothing more than to be rid
of aging fears and unforgiving voices.
Instead, I found the carcass of a creature,
a mess of skin and bones that might have been
a dog or newborn lamb, for all I knew.
Not what I’d expected—not at all—
nor what an April walk in search of nothing
might reasonably entail. So if I tell you
that walking steadily in prose or verse
is neither safe nor proof against disorder,
think of that ugly, desiccated body,
which, I understand, was part of nature
but nonetheless unsettled me for hours,
despite the even tempo of my steps,
the tranquil rhythm of my exhalations.

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