Rappahannock Review | Vanessa Stauffer
1897
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Saint Mary’s Dawn

 

Like the boy crying wolf, the trumpet repeats
an old warning, tossed from Saint Mary’s
like the empty net the flock of swifts
draws above the city walls—delicate sieve,
frenetic search seaming the space between
stone cobbling the square & distant deepening blue.
I’m not sure if they are swifts.
They might be starlings, which matters only because
a group of one is a flock, the other a murmuration.
I don’t trust myself to choose the word that’s right
when beauty is at stake. Dissimulation is the term
for a group of birds unidentified,
what I should call as well “Saint Mary’s Dawn,” the handful of notes
the trumpet continues to scatter, so deaf to tone is my ear:
able to hear the change, unable to name it,
unsure of the terms to describe the leap
between the first two notes, what to call the series of small steps
the silver sound descends before arriving at the word
I looked up: fermata, which is an unexpected pause
on a note or a rest. In this case, both:
one long note is held and then another,
then the shortest staccato burst before silence
stretching thirteen minutes when the song is played again,
the final note cut short again because, the legend says,
the sentry played these notes to warn the king
the Mongols were approaching, alarm cut short
by an arrow through his throat. Then I can believe
fermata also means a death, or death is a fermata,
a pause, mere minutes passing before
the tiny window, hexagonal-paned,
swings open & the hymn repeats. This seems a beautiful place
for it, the square ringed with café tables,
wild mushrooms drenched in cream, amber beer tinged burgundy
by syrups of muddled berries. Pastiche of languages
amidst the heavy stoneware, white & gleaming,
the silver clink of satiety.

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