Even the toneless whisper finds its cradle, its home,
let alone the marginal harmony so central to our story.
Even the clouds as they gather musical weight, the sun
a better reason to lie down. And thus a stranger Wozzeck,
gathering sticks in no key in particular, tells his friend,
All is still, as if the world died. But his friend is elsewhere,
as music is, however near. If the composer saw his own
experience here, in those who would not, could not, listen,
what you hear are sticks on fire. What you see is a man
whose shadow falls into the shadows of distant towers.
What you recall is bodies falling into one anonymous grave.
The funeral hymn decomposes into military cadence.
Sad figures of the leaves and branches have lost their silhouette.
But the shadows are out there somewhere. The silence
of friends turns to something as it turns. In the early phases
of refusal, the sticks that the fascist gathers are men.
The physician deepens his experiments into the poor.
His instruments work a little closer, and the heart recoils.
And the whole cast is singing now in no one key.
One person’s symptom is another’s prophecy. Another’s science
dreams of reputation and moves men from machine to machine,
the music of the living from passacaglia to chorale.
All of us are building toward a clearer, more corrosive
bewilderment. The world has not died. It just acts that way.
And Wozzeck is its orphan, before he is our monster.
He is the wounded child he was, before he makes an orphan
of his son. We who watch, we can see it coming. However
drugged. We who take our place in the darker portion
of the house, if we know anything, we know something
of the dark, how deep the madness cuts, what it takes
when it takes its life. But the boy—Wozzeck’s son—is
another matter. And so he stares into the space off-stage
the other boys abandon. He is unaware his parents have died,
and though the image he makes, transfixed by children’s
voices in the distance, makes us wonder, a part of us wants
to spare him, wrap his eye in tissues for the journey.
Call it merciful. To arrive again at no one key and think of it
as home. Call it the odd unlikely reason why we come.
And for weeks we will see ourselves there. We return.
To bury deep in him our memory, our flowers and our sword.
The undeveloped characters are the first to suffer
the fates that move the movie’s suffering along,
invested as stories are in protagonists who bear
the torchlight of the camera in their eyes. Somewhere
a movie extra takes a bullet and dive and waits
to cash his tiny check. To each his cutting room
that spares a voice here, a limb there, a flame where once
there was a body. Or, more shamelessly, a crowd.
The names we love are elsewhere, the movie stars
whose pseudonyms luminesce in characters they play,
the hero, for one, who takes the psychopath in
his bare hands, stronger than grief, because that comes later,
if at all, long after he with his heroine slips through
the checkpoint gate, into the noise of the airport concourse.
Just them and millions in suspicious bills because,
hell, the story’s nemesis is dead, the blood money
no one’s now, and they are on the lam, nameless
as us, and who on earth more deserves to spend it.
Bruce Bond is the author of twenty books including, most recently, Immanent Distance: Poetry and the Metaphysics of the Near at Hand (U of MI, 2015), Black Anthem (Tampa Review Prize, U of Tampa, 2016), Gold Bee (Helen C. Smith Award, Crab Orchard Award, Southern Illinois University Press, 2016), Sacrum (Four Way Books, 2017), and Blackout Starlight: New and Selected Poems 1997-2015 (E. Phillabaum Award, LSU, 2017). Five books are forthcoming: Rise and Fall of the Lesser Sun Gods (Elixir Book Prize, Elixir Press), Frankenstein’s Children (Lost Horse Press), Dear Reader (Free Verse Editions), Scar: A Triology (Etruscan Press), and Words Written Against the Walls of the City (LSU). Presently he is a Regents Professor of English at University of North Texas.