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CON

L I T E R A T U R E

.

T H E A T R E

.

A R T

A moan dragged across

gravel, a guitar’s metallic

complaint & shimmy—

these sounds rattle the zodiac,

wail to the mute eruption

& flare of a collapsing star.

Dark

was the Night, Cold

was the Ground

by Blind Willie Johnson—

3 minutes & 15 seconds

of bruised spiritual—

is touring the cosmos

alongside

The Brandenburg

Concerto & Johnny

B. Goode

on the spacecraft

Voyager, the music flanked

by a slew of natural sounds:

surf & thunder, crickets,

a kiss, a heartbeat—

an aural primer

to planet Earth. The world

is phonic. What’s matter—

blueberry, backhoe, the back

of your hand—but the shards

of that primeval sound

when the universe

detonated from the ghost

of a pebble?

On this journey,

any

one

man’s history

is dwarfed

by boundless gulf

& pulsar—Voyager,

long past Pluto,

is 100,000 years

from the next system—

but here you are

on Earth & so it matters

that when Johnson was 7,

his stepmother, aiming

for his father, cast lye

into his face, the price

for his father’s infidelity.

Blinded, he was resigned

to a street corner: the dull

rattle of tips pooling

in a cup, a woman passing

to another running catalogue

of bouquets—husk of sweat, at first,

then salt, then almonds—

her body’s continuous assertions

grown hyperbolic. He could

smell

moods—their delicate

swerves evident as each

nuance of skin’s pit & swell—

smell the fur

before it brushed his arm,

before the woman backed away

in a clatter of heels.

Years later, he could smell

the stench of soaked char

in the ruined pit

of his house. Turned away

from the hospital after the fire

that gutted his roof,

he returned to a rain-soaked

bed of newspaper & soot,

& pneumonia killed him

in the ashes,

beneath a ceiling

not of wood or plaster

but of stars.

What are blues

with no human to hear?

What’s a kiss

or a heartbeat

to that grand sweep

of interplanetary ash

but molecules bumping

molecules? Stranger, unimaginable

intergalactic pilgrim

who’s never even heard

of a tongue,

if you’ve found this note

curled in our million dollar can,

hear the absurdity of our glory

& our pain. Transmute it

into we know not what:

space dust, star kindling.

Restore us back to sound.

Cold was the Ground

Stephen Cramer ’97 is an English professor

at the University of Vermont. “Cold was the

Ground” is from his fifth book, entitled “Bone

Music,” which won the Louise Bogan Award.

48

LYCOMING COLLEGE 2017 SPRING MAGAZINE

CON N E C T