“Thelonius” by Christopher Raley

Thelonious used to call life and death play things.
Rocking mirth on his knee,
he spoke in dissonant bursts.
He led us to the night sky lake
where he sent out accusations
to bob on havoc-rippled reflections of the moon
and to float ashore to the line of us.

I watched him
like a man watches the gauge go to end,
gripping the wheel and steering
though he just as well stop.
It will stop here
or it will stop there,
and here or there
are both a thousand miles from towns and borders
in a waste of dry words
split before and behind by a long black line.

Death is easy.
It paints what it has heard of beauty
and then describes the painting
while shadows pool in its sallow cheeks.
Death’s words are severed hands
that scratch and scatter like November leaves
on cracked and gray, forgotten streets.
Death hobbles down empty halls on broken feet,
calling for the doctor with a bitter back to God.

Yet hasn’t my heart found definition in words?
None other than the tongue can lift up this confession:
I stood with him by the lake pronouncing accusations
until I became dizzy from the hazard alterations of light and dark,
hypnotizing into memory with a permanence
that seemed not to weigh on the others.
Their words were tossed about to someone else’s shore,
but the wind brought mine to my feet.

Death is easy, yes,
but life is hard.
We struggle, my friend,
and always have.


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