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Katherine Soniat


Rain hardly stopped the month of August,
nickel kettle boiling on the stove all day for tea.
The woman decided to give in, as a painter might,
and let the shadows offer direction.
She’d follow with sponges of gold lacquer to dab the edges.

At least the dusty Buick in the alley was washed
and ready for travel. Sometimes she thought of it as a country
movie marquee, a ticket past the rural drive-in
where stars kissed beyond the hood,
and she drove home to prowl with the cat
through the warm, black fields.

Every now and then she reached in
and pulled a title for evening from her dreams.
Right now it was Baby Elephant in the Choir Stall.
After close-ups of dark red puckers under the Milky Way,
and a summer of Bach weaving through an empty house in
the rain,
why not an image that ungainly
and promising, waving its wrinkled nose at the future?

The trick was to understand the puzzle
laid out by a liturgical young elephant in candlelight:
this animal a first organ of song?
But then came its training, the chaining, the tugging and
poking at a spirit to make it fall into step,
to make it fall asleep and keep quiet.
And here she had an elephant whose eyes slowly closed
to nap in her dream . . .

She stopped in the middle of tea on a gray afternoon.
How had fugues and a movie marquee led to such travel
to such a remarkable elephant?
And imagine how this creature would sound on a night
years from now,
full grown, trumpeting in a medieval cathedral.
A cloister echoing with the exhale
of all the long-held misereres.
Mammal of memory loose in a church.

There was persistence in this image,
similar to those of a Chinese painter
she once had known—
canvas after canvas he did of dark train stations
in prewar Munich and Berlin.
The skylight of stars, rails crisscrossing like comets,
and the city’s lanternly wobble in a far archway.
The night sheen drew him,
though he knew his paints bought in China would wrinkle
and, over time, disappear.
Once he painted the stations with warm tar
filched from a road gang in his province.
He was built for embattlement,
for the shades that pigment each day.

How would it be, she wondered looking into the tea,
to rest on a bench in one of his depots?
She would wear his favorite yellow scarf and know
with each breath she was fading a bit,
going away.


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