Rilke Phone Case – a poem by Tom Snarsky

Rilke Phone Case
I guess this is my version
Of the way you felt you held Louise Labé, like
You had to translate her
Poems into the “universal” language of
Martyrdom, working from that big
Volume of her Oeuvres
Published in 1887 Paris by——lol——Charles
Boy, a category maybe we both have
A strained/strange/syncopated
Relationship with. People call your
Versions “overtranslated” now, like death
Entered their country of love
But they were important enough
To be notified——
& look at how Messiaen scored his birdsong,
Scanner imperfections like tape hiss but still
Plenty of information for us to hear
Their myriad colors, the songs imbued
Wetly with them like 10,000 embarrassing tears
Or the water of which just a little
Was needed to render you in watercolor
Little Modernist aberration your eye
Looking a bruised yellow green
Blue reddish-brown (I had to ask
Kristi to be sure, colorblind as
I am, just 
Like I’d ask her for some music words about
The Louange
To make me sound like a smarter bird
About it. Intervals, yes, & the bizarre
Instrumentation fueled by carceral scarcity
Like it was screaming No one would do this
This way
If they didn’t have to the cello telling
These difficult truths in its almost-human
Voice are there any recordings of you
I wonder——a quick google makes it appear
Not, even though you lived
Until 1926 you were never a song
On a cylinder of wax
No nightingale
Outsang you in the flat background)
Like a complicated dress that goes
With basically nothing,
Stands almost only on its own
But of course you have to be in it
Or me,
Whatever history
Dictates through lipstick
& the kind of makeup routine
You’d manage if you were brave enough
To act, less camera & more
Commedia with its multitude
Of histrionic colors
Pouncing all Brakhage on the frame
(O how you would’ve understood each other)
There are no angels in Labé. The whites of
Their countless eyes could not suffice to
Contain the debate between
Folly &
As it lives on in the play of color,
Its characters
Leaning toward or away from the moon
Like a giant gray (Kristi’s asleep
So I had to google “what color is the moon”)
Beaming down on Labé’s
Brave costume 
Or the light between buildings
In Sonnet 24 (go ahead go read it)
Shakespeare paints this light between
Two people, an angelology
Of distance——where your true image
pictured lies——& god
Can’t you just imagine a
On the head of a pin totally stacked
With beautiful clothes Rilke your white collars
To lead the angels out of the paintings 
Louise’s jodhpurs her riding boots &
Rope Arlecchino’s many-colored tights &
The simple outfit Messiaen
Wore to the church organ each Sunday
I don’t think you ever translated William
The way you liturgized our Lionnoize rider 
People like to say you & he had an
Inverted relationship
To the human, him using it to figure
The non- & you preferring the other
Direction, trying
To share the notes every other thing
On god’s great supervenience ladder
Would give us in our many scenes
& does give us, whether we take them
Or can even read them or hear them or not,
A bird scrawling on the Angelic Doctor’s script
Try it with a little more wind here
A little more blue in the eye
Kristi’s still sleeping but not even she
Can help me as I google “what color were
Rilke’s eyes” no one thought to write it out &
The b&w photographs are no help
Paula Moderson-Becker’s portrait (I mistyped
“poetrait” first, ha) is all I have to go on
But we already learned two stanzas ago
How painters lie
They are not like birds they have
Ugly motives sometimes
Hearts that scar
& paints that, though they could mix to get
Your eye color right, might not on purpose
Full flower five the ivy climbs
Five stories not a single overlapping
Plot line node petiole axillary bud
buriest thy content I didn’t know
Those little Koch snowflake spikes
On the leaves were called teeth
They chew through landlords’ mortar
Admirably & the birds eat the bugs
Spider mites aphids scale and mealy
Feeding on the leaves pretend we
Needed any more than soap & water
To rinse off the mites a certainty
I think you would’ve loved baptism
Of lighter underside & stomata 
& clean bird feet from which to pitch
A song
Loriod’s XIV. Regard des anges
From the Vingt regards
New stars falling like hammers
Trombone flames of angels ripped through
With jealousy
Not having been trusted with love
The greatest eccentricities of which
Are a letting-be
Of the music in your bird head
Your bird head
d. 17 May 2010

Tom Snarsky teaches mathematics at Malden High School in Malden, Massachusetts, USA. His collection Light-Up Swan will be published in 2021 by Ornithopter Press

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s