by Todd McKinney

Voice of Patrick on cell phone:
thin, pointed, the wand
a conductor raises and drops and waves
sidelong and diagonally in tempo with
Brahms’ first movement, fourth symphony,
which is exploding from his car stereo.
Patrick’s a wind gust. He says,
“This movement’s a civil war
battle. Listen: hear that, the misery,
the courage, the fear, a creek, something eerie.
It’s there, you just gotta listen.”
Or Patrick’s a young palm tree
in a wind gust. Brahms is among many
who move Patrick thus. Once,
listening to him play “Parable for Solo Viola”
on CD, I heard him breathing
during rests, between notes,
between something like despair and
something like resignation,
breath strong enough to bend
a candle’s flame without extinguishing it—
but Patrick’s words remind me why I called:
three weeks ago, he broke the Sacred Knot with Anna,
so I ask him how that is because
I need an update and I need him to know
I haven’t forgotten. His voice—
that wand—summons one cello
bowing two notes, the song
of a deep, quiet howling.
He says, “I’m glad it’s over”
and I can’t believe it
but then he adds “Talk about a fight,”
which he punctuates with a “Ha!”
which bleeds into his trademark “My God!”
which lingers in the quiet
like the quiet that hangs above a plateau,
a quiet descending from regret
to reverence to relief, a quiet Brahms erases
with four measures and a string section.
And then Patrick describes it:
“corpses shade the hillside
from which smoke lifts in curls;
cannons sit quietly, mouths closed;
a male chorus too lucky or too cursed sing
a nearly inaudible lullaby of moans and gasps;
and the sun ascends once more from a maroon pool,”
which is when Patrick stops with a sigh
that suggests he has dropped, temporarily,
the baton that is his voice.
Before I can ask him a question,
he picks it up again, only to tap it this time:
“We were fine despite the distance—
but then the troops marched in
and we had a thousand reasons to hate each other,
and each reason had a gun.
I’m still alive, I think,
but you know it’s hard to tell
sometimes. It’s hard to tell.”
And with that he puts down the baton
as though, finally, he had measured out
the length of some sorrow he’d kept inside,
as if it were the long red handkerchief
a magician pulls from his mouth
until all he holds is a square
the color of a mourning dove flying away.