Ned Balbo                      


Elegy for One Who’ll Never Die
We feel he dwells somewhere beyond our lives.
Bracing himself on banisters of gold, Elvis
rubs his eyes, descends as if the veils
are lifting, along with all the age’s evils.
But listen: even in Graceland’s basement, rats
scatter into a deeper night that tars
their fur with the oil of empty rooms. No star
splits that blackness, and he, for all his arts,
steps carefully, still drugged. With eyes of stone,
he sees what we do not, he hums the notes
of hymns with hidden meanings, drowns the tones
of flunkies who lament, “His clothes are stained…”
Outside, the sentry at the booth detains
a guest; he waves his shield, shifts from Reverse
to Park, then looks up—suddenly, mere words
are useless before the gates he, too, reveres,
and more: that light—it’s as if a sword
cut through the drapes that held it in reserve—
passing within those windows. Though I saw nothing
is what he’ll tell friends back in Washington.

  Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) sees Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslett)
for the first time in Ang Lee’s
Sense and Sensibility (1995)

—And in the moment that your fingers pressed
the pianoforte’s keys, relaxed, then tensed,
about to strike (the interval sustained
beneath your right hand, silence between chords
struck with your left), you smiled, broke into song,
and everything was harmony: your voice
rising to melody, triads of taut strings
hammered or nudged, touched briefly, brushed aside
before your audience, a scale descending
till it broke away, transformed itself
while you kept singing, sun against gold hair
shaken just slightly, bright keys, polished wood
that flared with light.
                                   I stood at the back, unseen,
but knew already all I had was yours.

What moment was it when I understood?
—Checking your watch once more, your satchel strapped
across a shoulder, hair caught, voice gone cool
as in all your departures, you remarked,
unasked, that you’d be back again. I heard
the pulleys of the elevator drumming
somewhere in the dark behind closed doors,
and as the rumbling slowed and we stood waiting
awkwardly, some unseen wheel grinding,
threatening to fail, cables drawn taut
in this long-faded building, we both knew
exactly what it meant: that this was what
you’d planned to say, to feel….The doors snapped back,
and crashed, at last. And we stepped in again.


You answered first, “Things turned out for the best,
for both of us.” What had I hoped to hear?
Traffic, and far-off thunder: soon, the rain,
huge drops, would strike the canopy. I’d missed
your laughter, steady gaze, musician’s ear,
a scientist’s cool reason, all the best
of what we’d almost salvaged, though the wine,
the afternoon, we’d used up.... Did I care
just what was best, or not, how fast the rain
would drench this small cafe, future and past
the same, too dark too see? Or else too clear....
Time, now, to drain your glass. Yes, it was best,
or else, best we could hope for, now that, soon,
we’d part ways once again, and nothing more
I’d force from you would help. When would the rain
flood down and drum the canvas, clear the air,
leave all the world a blank slate?...
                                                           As before
we’d ever questioned what would turn out best,
you listened, kindly, waiting for the rain.

In Sympathy with Saint Therese
  Except ye be converted, and
become as little children, ye shall not
enter into the kingdom of heaven…

So long secluded, crouched on the convent floor,
stones worn smooth where you scrubbed, then scrubbed again,
you’d pause and gaze up—child-like, vacant-eyed—
All these hard things I’ll do—just let me burn,
a candle on Your altar
—as you’d done
long years till now, hair cropped, mantle and robe
concealing what had changed: so much, within,
that burned in some new way, burned till you cried
out loud, “Have I refused You anything?”—
wanting so much to touch, or to be touched,
and so, freed from a body which betrayed you
with its fire, its blood….
                                         So much the better
never to have recovered, one less daughter
cured by a marble Virgin’s fleeting smile….

Lidless Eyes
As if to search this wet earth, all you need
to see still near, or near enough, the bullfrog’s
steady croaking stopped, flicking your tongue,
you slip through moss, dead leaves....When did you fall
from all your light, reduced to this, skin trembling
with each sound and alligator-quake?
And though some claim you're poisonous—they're wrong—
others, they've seen you roll, a black wheel tumbling,
tail-arch clasped in jaws, only to break,
all tail, and slide away, or that you bleed
yet leave no trail—all lies—I know the dogs
that crash through weeds have failed, nothing to kill
for all their work. You’re gone, later to rise
from burrows deep in mud, with lidless eyes.

Copyright © 2011 Ned Balbo

Ned Balbo received the 2010 Donald Justice Prize, selected by A.E. Stallings, for The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems (Story Line Press/WCU Poetry Center). His previous books include Lives of the Sleepers (U. of Notre Dame Press, Ernest Sandeen Prize and ForeWord Book of the Year Award) and Galileo’s Banquet (WWPH, Towson University Prize). He is also the author of a chapbook, Something Must Happen (Finishing Line Press). He has received three Maryland Arts Council grants, the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Award, and the John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize. “My Father’s Music," an essay on adoptive identity and ethnicity, appears in Creative Nonfiction's anthology of Italian-American prose, Our Roots Are Deep with Passion (Other Press). He teaches at Loyola University Maryland.