What to Expect When You Become a Bell
There will be hands. A litany of them.
You will be lifted by the saffron cuffs of a temple priest,
tuned lip tapped against your sister’s to synchronize
every supplicant heart to the beat of rapture. But don’t fear—
between blows, something will persist.
You will be pressed by fingers on an unattended counter,
to placate the impatient and summon the indifferent.
Options will be limited.
You will be hitched to a yoke in the eaves of a small-town
steeple, made to swing on Sundays by a rookery of hands
on a time-darkened rope. We need your song, you see—
to comfort or inspire. Because a bell is a special kind of vessel
(No one has more respect for bells than I do)
A battery of hands.
You will be picked up and swung, side to side. Tiny hands
that will grab you by the clapper and you’ll be silenced.
You will want to find your own tone, timbre. To tie yourself
to the ankle of a cowherd—to be a charm on the wrist
of a 12 year-old girl who has no time for the rhythm
of others. To perch in a storefront doorway on 53rd and Ellis
so you can clang all day in warning. Or the harness of a sleigh
in winter as if good things may yet be coming.
You will dream of a lone ringer, safe grip of a single owner.
Surely that would be better—loving hands to make you sing
in strict and scripted measure. You’ll have questions
for the bell-founder. You will start to wonder where bell ends
and hand begins—even doubt your existence. You will secretly
hold your skirt so you can’t be rung above a whisper.
Your voice is dangerous. It cannot be unrung.
You will hunker in the space between soundings, contemplate
your hammered shoulder, your polished wounds and sutures.
Doesn’t your tongue dance freely on its pivot? And your heart’s cry
echo in the chamber? They’ll try to tell you that the song is in the hands:
It’s in the bell. And in ringing, you’ll remember.
When your small face enters the water
your heart will slow
the airway close
blood pool in the thorax.
The tools of evolution marshalled
to keep you alive.
There is oxygen in the muscle. Hemoglobin.
It is the only thing of value you carry,
your limbs soft anchors
severed from the body’s industry
treasures tucked in your palm
long since lost.
You can no more grip the prow
than your mother hold you fast
in her bluing arms.
The sea will rock you now—
colossal lung, that breathes in
winds off the Levant
and spits out a murk
of salt and scale beyond fathom—
wreck of a thousand Roman journeys
sunk in the undercurrent.
Who could imagine so dark a crossing
far from the limestone shores?
Or death that waits so close
to the sun-warm surface.
In sight of asylum.