Ragtime Tristesse 

O yes, saints, tell us, 
how loss is only change, 
you who do so go with the flow, 
you who are so with it-- 

as the flame-fingered girl goes shrieking, 
palms apart, a crucifix desafinado, 
down some nitro nighttrain aisle 
jammed with demons incommunicado 
who do da mambo bardo 

And you artistes 
with rusty chops in subtle mastications? 

Mimes and jugglers are monks, 
prostitutes monks, 
thieves and pickpockets monks, 
murderers monks. 

It's the Fourth of July. 
Newly fallen, 
you hold up crosses, 
flags, poppies-- 
What do you teach us? 

And why do you accuse us 
of silences, 
spiritual exercises-- 

when we are only a dog 
trying to lick a lady's hand, 
to make a human prayer? 

Do you suppose the rich are so jaded 
they must go out of their way for surprises? 
Hire extras to rise up on the edge 
of coitus, and leave the room? 
Iagos to pull out the rug? 

We are like the blind 
Appalachian fiddle-carver 
who learns his craft 
from the maker of caskets. 

Fiddler, play us some ragtime tristesse, 
some summer divertimento-- 
let us imagine a music 
to amortize 
our imagined apanage. 

We riffraff, we wait for the loan, 
the approved photo prints, 
the confirmed reservation. 

We count our leaves with our lucky stars. 
The sweeping beams of light bless us. 
The trees rustle and moan in the ordinary night. 
2003 Jim McCurry
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