Sustain Poem by Alison Luterman


My love plays piano and his foot hovers above the pedal.
Sustain, they call it when the note floats
like a basketball player suspended in air,
or a question whose purpose is to remain unanswered.
Theres only this low keening urgency,
the sound of mourning doves,
drone and descant, murmur and coo.
I am learning to rest inside the word enough
its rough leathery consonants, its f of finitude.

To bear up under
pain, or the memory of pain
repeating itself, like scales, as if we were practicing
to never do again what
of course we will do again

I love you
the way language loves the tongue,
the way a sentence loves its verb,
and parentheses love whatever they enclose.
I love you the way notes love the fingers that play them,
the way the ear loves sound
as well as the silence that comes after.
I love you the way a bridge loves land,
anchoring itself to the river banks so it can arch
over waters too rough to swim.
I love you the way an apple loves the teeth that bite it,
and a worm loves the earth it turns.

After divorce
we sustained heavy losses,
multiple injuries,
head wounds, trauma, shock.

But you cant sustain shock.

You have to let it go, or move on into deeper waters.

Give us this day our stone-ground wholegrain toast with organic butter,
our fair trade coffee, our soy creamer, our free-range eggs,
our morning paper with its dismaying headlines,
our kissing and teasing in the kitchen.
Let it all go on, just
another day, or week, or ten or twenty years.
Barely enough time to slip through this life
like a fish through a hole in the net,
or a string of pearls through nimble fingers,
a lone saxophone note draped around the silken neck of night.

When I was young I worshipped the spark
of the ignition, turn of the key in the lock,
open door, blank page, lost maps,
deserted freeways, and myself.
Me, with my thumb stuck out,
going for broke, coast to coast, on shredded brakes.

Later, after the fire
had burned through and taken
with it my most cherished obstacles,
I learned to live in a field of ash, holding
sorrow when there was nothing else to hold onto.

I dont know this woman
with the clean kitchen, the watered garden,
curly-leafed kale and immortal chard
growing around her house.
I dont know how
she keeps it going, sustains this note
weve put our weight on,
or how the trees keep on standing there
with all the trouble theyve seen,
breathing in poison, giving out oxygen.
I want to be like them, though I am only
a flesh apple of hope and doubt.
I want your hand in mine,
as the old world ends and something else is born
every moment,
singing loves praises just a little while longer.

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