A damn sight smaller than expected:
the severed head of a thumbtack. Smaller even;
the girth of a ragged sigh, barely as thick as
the final thought dragged out to the curb
for collection.

I had always ascribed it proportions befitting
its gravity as that one-way fare
across the river;

when young I’d tried to force a Kennedy
behind crooked gravestones of words unspoken
to rest under a bed of tongue. Slippery
failure made me jealous of the dry
mouths of the dead.

But this: weighty though weightless, tiny
as a tomb. I could swallow forty
without water.


I wanted to give you a song already yours,
though buried. A map to your song whose path
is yours alone to discern, each step
taken with eyes closed another
word in your pocket.

I wanted to show you where to chisel away
lifeless stone to exhume your song,
its pulse defiant,

and none of these is mine to bestow. Instead
I give you ancient silver: the head of a deity,
a galley upon the waters. Sublingual payment
for passage to one who hears your song
asleep in the stone.

Go. In her wake across the river:
ankle intact, veins unclouded
and heart unstilled.


I give you just the one; you travel as those
who carry no return fare beneath their
raspy tongues. Upon his hapless visit
her lover paid no coin, but sang
for his crossing.

Go. Speak with her. Heed her replies,
the whisper of invisible earth
that shifts beneath;

find what’s yours in the stone. Cut with care,
set it pulsing and wet before you. Turn.
Never look back; your song is with you.
Lead it slowly on newborn legs
to river’s edge

and from that farthest shore, pluck its words
like orphic strings. Pay your way back
with your song.

(first appeared in issue 2 of Petrichor Machine)