A sacred quiet permeates Temple Cone’s debut poetry collection, No Loneliness, winner of the 2009 FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize. Abandoned barns are Cone’s churches; the steady rhythms of farm work, his liturgy. The birth of a daughter is both miracle and memento mori, a sweet paradox held together in an extended lyric poem that envisions poetry as a transmission of love across generations.
Temple has kindly given me permission to reprint these poems from his book. I had a hard time choosing just two favorites.
Leaner than the gray French lops
I’d raised as a boy, the wild hare
I held in the August heat
was speckled yellow and brown
as old sandpaper, his pelt
worn to cussedness.
He lay twitching on asphalt
a minute after I swerved
and still hit him.
his crazy dance to see
if he would rise, then gathered him,
trembling, into my arms,
one hand on his feather-quill ribs,
the other cupping soft neck.
Dumb luck, this. His eyes lolled
skyward, showed me
what to do. I whispered
some nonsense under my breath,
words to calm one of us.
The sparrow heart drummed in my palm.
I hadn’t forgotten how
to end life, could feel the old fracture
of knowledge in my bones.
So when he sprang free,
bounding to a roadside hedge,
I knelt down in the dust,
gaping at my torn shirt, marked skin,
stunned by how quickly
mercy could break from my hands.
After his first descent to the underworld,
Orpheus didn’t die. The Maenads never tore him
apart like an offering of bread,
and the story of his head, singing
as the river bore it downstream to ocean,
is someone’s hopeful indulgence
in the persistence of song.
to Orpheus happens to us all.
He wept. He cursed the animals who came
to comfort him, till the woods were silent.
In Thebes, he sold his lyre
and stayed drunk for days.
But the world doesn’t stop for myths,
so when the drachmas ran out, he found work
as a gardener. Kneeling hours in the dirt,
he’d talk to trellised morning-glories,
to the crocus and the daisies.
Of course, in time, he began to sing instead,
softly, and without knowing it.
The persistence of song. Then one day
he noticed the flowers following him
wherever he walked, and when he looked,
they didn’t turn away.