for Julie Thornton Olsen

A lonely place, this open air. Beneath the heels
of myriads, the stones have worn;
a constant stream of emotion, too, erodes the face
of stones, and women. This hush is
their devotion, their power.

They watched on, guarded, as your beauty
shone, your accomplishment definite. It
would not be the last, but wedge the clay
into a shape convinced; you
would burnish the patina and become—

yet…your voice crushed
against expectations. Words—whose?
— would have done nothing,
but struggle always. From the seats, some voices
destined to be mute. Darkness between youth
and stern-faced age, except this one.

Across that void, I know there was no sound, and barely
light upon your shoulder. And yet, I heard it:
a primal scream, swelling like a choir of cicadas
as their death approaches. I could not turn.
Alone, my ritual mask cracked and I
could see only a royal blue trickle

where my soul had been cut. It was song
as only Orpheus would know; it was word, as only
the voice of the universe would know;
it was flesh, as only drunken Maenads know—
the primeval rite, the original drama.

I was quite alone

in that black maw, stunned, feeling the
horror as though ten thousand ghastly figures passed
through me until I realized that only I
am a ghost. I could not tell them;
no avail to tell the blind, behold your radiance.

Decades on, this scream still scratched into
my bones. Strange to tell you my appreciation.
Nothing, then, to do but live, with newly revived eyes,
and hear how every unspoken word yields flight
and returns to you; every voice is only
your voice singing through other chords.