Leonard Kress: “Songlines”


          The man who went on a Walkabout was making a ritual journey. He trod in the footprints

          of his Ancestor…singing…—and so recreated creation. 

—Bruce Chatwin on Australian Aboriginal spirituality

The world does not exist until you sing

it into existence, though you are not the first

to call it forth. Others before, back

to the very beginning, have freed it from its mind

prison, given it life, only to have it disappear,

again, like a baby’s favorite toy

hidden by some teasing adult. That toy

is gone for good—there’s wailing till she sings

and coos when it suddenly reappears.

It’s like she’s seeing it for first

time, not as some shadowy image in her mind

but shimmering and vibrant, unwilling to back

down or retreat. It’s time to draft Rilke back

into service—Apollo is no toy

deity, and to enter his Temple requires a mind

that’s undefiled and a hunger to sing.

You must set aside your youthful soulful anthem first

and let your show-stopping belting disappear

so that an exalted breath can appear

like some god sighing in a back

antechamber for the very first

time. Don’t let others toy

with your world or degrade what you sing,

or urge you to keep it locked away in your mind.

Begin to excavate, make sure it’s mined

and brought to the surface, appearance

corresponding to reality. Then can you sing

what others have sung, wander anywhere and back,

your path like a musical score, a wind-up toy

unwinding, an extravaganza of first

causes. Your ancestors were the first

to create, and you must always keep that in mind

when you replicate, as with a magic toy

recreating what would surely disappear

or disintegrate, hauled off on the back

of an ancient beast—if you fail to sing.

Leonard Kress has published poetry and fiction in Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, Crab Orchard Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, and elsewhere. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex, ThirteensBraids & Other Sestinas, and Walk Like Bo Diddley.  He teaches philosophy and religion at Owens College in Ohio and edits creative non-fiction for Artful Dodge.

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