1. Tuning up
They are there if you listen.
On the train, in the Laundromat—
the instruments, I mean;
bells, stirring in two-way stretch cotton,
(their owner slumped in the window seat,
his work boots tapping a secret rhythm);
timpani buttoned under a cashier’s blouse,
a cello bound by polyester pinafore
in salmon pink. She thinks
the air is flecked with soap dust,
doesn’t realise it’s rosin from her bow.
Air flows through apertures
where, later, fingers will flutter,
strings blur under the rub of horsehair,
their discordant mewl barely heard
above the swish of the train,
the hum of machine,
louder in the darkness of tunnel
or the lull of rinse cycle, then soft again.
Tuning up; they’re getting ready
for this evening’s symphony of skin
to begin at precisely 10.15.
2. Skin music
And you can never explain it in physical terms—
what happens between two people
on an ordinary bed, in an ordinary room.
Let me ask you, could you teach the cuttlefish
of Ludwig’s Emperor (second movement)
in terms of anvil, hammer and stirrup?
Paint the hues of daybreak for the mole?
There is only air, compressed and stretched.
There is always space between skins,
no matter how closely they press.
No touch, only the music of skin;
an oboe sings, a cello answers.
Locked within the strands of collagen,
atoms built of smaller blocks,
each one a capsule packed with strings,
each string a note that’s yet to play.
Afterwards, they lie curled,
two bass clefs facing this way, that.
They talk of anything, of childhood,
croak the lyrics to every Paul Simon song
they can recall; this, the highlight,
now the players have left the stage.
They will meet people
who promise them more than this,
more than you could write about this.
Sleep will come later, a raft
pushed out on a starred sea.
What oak bed? Which room?
There is nothing here
undulating along their border.
Only this tiny stage
drifting on the night swell,
a single baton on its floor