When There Is No Poet To Speak

Severed Head Floating Downriver, 2016

Alice Oswald, British, born 1966 

from Falling Awake, 2016


It is said that after losing his wife, Orpheus was torn to pieces by Maenads, who threw his head into the River Hebron. The head went on singing and forgetting, filling up with water and floating away.




Eurydice      already forgetting who she is

with her shoes missing

and the grass coming up through her feet





The white lady in a friend’s garden, Olive, NY.  With loving thanks.




searching the earth

                                   for the bracelet of tiny weave on her charcoal wrist




Japanese primula, Mt. Cuba, Delaware, 2019. Legacy of the du Pont Copelands



the name of a fly or flower             already forgetting who they are

they grow they grow





Flame azalea, Winterthur, Delaware. Legacy of Henry Francis du Pont



     till their bodies break their necks



Philadelphia Flower Show in who knows which year!




down there in the stone world

where the grey spirits of stones he around uncertain of their limits

matter is eating my mind   I am in a river




                                I in my fox-cap



Drownings, 1975, mixed paper collage. Varujan Boghosian, American born 1926.  Courtesy of the artist exhibited in 2017 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.



floating between the speechless reeds

I always wake like this being watched







Specimen unnumbered, 1981, silver gelatin print.  David Lede, American born 1948.  Philadelphia Art Museum




already forgetting who I am

the water wears my mask  

                                               I call  I call

lying under its lashes like a glance




 Chanticleer, Wayne, Pennsylvania





if only a child on a bridge would hoik me out




there comes a tremor and there comes a pause



down there in the underworld

where the tired stones have fallen

and the sand in a trance lifts a little

                         it is always midnight in those pools




Siberian Squill, Winterthur, Delaware



iron insects engraved in sleep




    I always wake like this being watched


I always speak to myself

                     no more myself but a colander




Fern, Winterthur, Delaware



draining the sound from this never-to-be                      mentioned wound

can you hear it

you with your long shadows and your short shadows




ShadowLife 070, 2014 (digital file), 2018 (print).  David Lebe, American born 1948 loan to an exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Museum, 2019



can you hear the severed head of Orpheus





Chanticleer, Wayne, Pennsylvania


no I feel nothing from the neck down


already forgetting who I am

the crime goes on without volition                                            singing in its bone

                     not I not I

        the water drinks my mind


as if in a black suit

                        as if bent to my books

     only my face exists sliding                                                 over a waterfall



Chanticleer, Wayne, Pennsylvania


and there where the ferns hang over the dark

and the midges move between mirrors

some woman has left her shoes

                                     two crumpled mouths              which my voice searches in and out


my voice being water

which holds me together and also                                                 carries me away

until the facts forget themselves                                 gradually like a contrail

and all this week

       a lime-green height troubles                                                         the river

      as if the mud was haunted

                                     by the wood





Mt. Cuba, Delaware, May 2019



this is how the wind works hard at                                                                        thinking

this is what speaks when no one speaks













4 thoughts on “When There Is No Poet To Speak

    1. There is more than one variation of the story but in general, Orpheus, a poet trained by the Muses loved his poetry more than anything else and the gods had the Maenads kill him out of jealousy. He preferred his poetry to them.

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