From Last Songs | Sojourners

From Last Songs

The situation of all of us is comparable to that of
Socrates when he was awaiting death in his
prison and began to learn to play the lyre.
Simone Weil

At once we learn a music
more honed than Bach.
A simple sentence perhaps
or a stitch that stands alone
in shock or symmetry.

From a century of Gulags
a tone poem made from the rack itself
as in El Greco's Christ where Jesus
carries the cross holding onto the vertical shaft
as if it were a harp so too from the collective
mind we play the ghost songs and lamentations
upon the wheel that breaks the bones.

From cages and strip cells
a soft Kaddish of poems begins
where the silent bread becomes
mellifluous in the last blood
beneath the walls.

Here the painter covers his cell
with artifacts and with the studied
celebration of his blighted heart.

Here the poet lies awake at night
and listens to his teeth rotting
and toothless learns his eulogy by heart
for freedom comes in choosing death in life.

When this article appeared, James Lewisohn was serving a life sentence at the Maine State Prison in Thomaston, where he ran a poetry workshop for fellow inmates.

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