David Kirby

(1944 / United States)

Get Up, Please - Poem by David Kirby

The two musicians pour forth their souls abroad
in such an ecstasy as to charm the audience
like none I've ever seen before, and when
they finish, they rise and hug each other,
and then the tabla player bends down
and touches the feet of the santoor player in an obvious gesture

of respect, but what does it mean? I don't find out
until the next day at the Econolodge in Tifton, GA,
where I stop on my way home after the concert
and ask Mrs. Patel, the owner, if she has ever heard
of these two musicians or knows
anything about the tabla and the santoor and especially the latter,

which looks like the love child of a typewriter
and a hammered dulcimer only with a lot of extra wires
and tuning posts, and she doesn't seem to understand
my questions, though when I ask her about one person touching
the other's feet and then bend down
to show her, she lights up and says, "It means he thinks the other

is a god. My children do this before they go off
to school in the morning, as though to say, ‘Mummy,
you are a god to us,'' and I look at her
for a second and then surprise us both when I say, "Oh, Mrs. Patel!"
and burst into tears, because I think,
first, of my own dead parents and then of little Lakshmi and Padma

Patel going off to their classes in Tift County schools,
the one a second-grader who is studying homophones
("I see the sea") and the other of whom is in the fourth
grade, where she must master long division with
its cruel insistence on numbers lined
up under one another with exacting precision and then crawling

toward the page's bottom as you, the divider, subtract
and divide again and again, all the while recording
on the top line an answer that grows increasingly
lengthy as you fret and chew the tip of your pencil
and persevere, though before they grab
their books and lunch boxes and pile onto the bus, they take time

to touch Mrs. Patel's feet and Mr. Patel's as well,
assuming there is such a person. Later my friend
Avni tells me you touch the feet of your elders
to respect the distance they have traveled
and the earth they have touched, and you
say "namaste"not because you take yoga at that little place

on the truck route between the t-shirt store
and the strip club but because it means "I bow
to the light within you," and often the people being
bowed to will stoop down and collect you as if to say
"You too are made of the same light!"
Reader, if your parents are alive, think of them now, of all the gods

whose feet you never touched or touched enough.
And if not your parents, then someone else.
You know someone like this, right? Someone who belongs
to the "mighty dead,' as Keats called them.
Don't you wish that person were here now
so you could touch their feet and whisper, "You are my god"?

I can't imagine Keats saying, "You too are made
of the same light," though I can see him saying,
as he did to Fanny Brawne, "I have been astonished
that Men could die Martyrs for religion—I have
shudder'd at it—I shudder no more—I could
be martyr'd for my Religion—Love is my religion—I could die for that—

I could die for you." My own feet have touched
the earth nearly three times as long as Keats's did,
and I'm hardly the oldest person
I know. So let this poem brush across the feet of anyone
who reads it. Poetry is
my religion—well, I wouldn't die for it. I'd live for it, though.

Topic(s) of this poem: music


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Poem Submitted: Monday, December 1, 2014



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