The Gods

By MARY JO SALTER

I always seem to have tickets
in the third or fourth balcony
(a perch for irony;
a circle of hell the Brits
tend to call ‘The Gods’),
and peer down from a tier
of that empyrean

at some tuxedoed insect
scrabbling on a piano.
Some nights there’s a concerto,
and ranks of sound amass
until it’s raining upward
(violin-bows for lightning)
from a black thundercloud.

A railing has been installed
precisely at eye level—
which leads the gaze, frustrated,
still higher to the vault
of the gilt-encrusted ceiling,
where a vaguely understood
fresco that must be good
shows nymphs or angels wrapped
in windswept drapery.
Inscribed like the gray curls
around the distant bald spot
of the eminent conductor,
great names—DA VINCI PLATO
WHITTIER DEBUSSY—

form one long signature,
fascinatingly random,
at the marble base of the dome.
It’s more the well-fed gods
of philanthropy who seem
enshrined in all their funny,
decent, noble, wrong

postulates, and who haunt
these pillared concert halls,
the tinkling foyers strung
with chandeliered ideals,
having selected which
dated virtues—COURAGE
HONOR BROTHERHOOD—rated

chiseling into stone;
having been quite sure
that virtue was a thing
all men sought, the sublime
a thought subliminally
fostered by mentioning
monumentally.

All men. Never a woman’s
name, of course, although
off-shoulder pulchritude
gets featured overhead—
and abstractions you might go
to women for, like BEAUTY
JUSTICE LIBERTY.

Yet at the intermission,
I generally descend
the spiral stairs unjustly
for a costly, vacant seat
I haven’t paid for. Tonight
I’ve slipped into D9.
The lights dim. Warm applause

and, after a thrilling pause,
some stiff-necked vanities
for a moment float away—
all the gorgeous, nameless,
shifting discordances
of the world cry aloud; allowed
at last, I close my eyes.

 

Mary Jo Salter is the author of six books of poems, most recently A Phone Call To The Future: New And Selected Poems.

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The Gods

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