Debora Greger

Not Thinking About the Past


In an idle hour I thought of former days;
And former friends seemed to be standing in the room.

             —Po Chü-i, “Thinking of the Past,” 833 A.D.


Pebbles of rain dashed against the window,
the past begging to be let in—
and then, what shadow lay beside me?

Whose hand was cool under my blouse?
The dark was a cave, the cave a boy’s mouth,
my tongue a blind snake feeling its way in—

or was the way out what I sought?
The past is a cave carved in the rain.
And where is that boy, who became nothing to me?

He left town a marijuana dealer
and came back a librarian, or so I heard.
How long has he lain in the ground now,

refusing to age? I heard he willed his record collection
to the library he stole it from.
The dull needle of the past drags in dark grooves,

though there’s no one to hear it.
Through the undergrowth of hisses and scratches
that filled those old records, with time,

still a voice courses like a stream
that ferries some mountainous sadness,
grain by grain, to the salt of the sea.

Into a clearing in Glück’s opera,
a woman in powdered wig and breeches steps,
claiming she’s a man named Orpheus.

Even with his mouth full of sand,
he can sing the dead back to life.
He can bring a rock to tears.