You’re in the last row at the Requiem.
                A woman arrives late, slides down the pew
(And let perpetual light shine on them),
                and then begins what looks like exam review,

astronomy or dermatology, with images:
                a dark macula against a flank of white
(Et lux perpetua luceat eis),
                one of the moons of a gaseous planet

or the glaring verdict of a micrograph
                (de poenis inferni et de profundo lacu)
open in her lap, beyond the crisis of
                souls at their final judgment it seems, although

perhaps it turns her on or helps her focus
                (from the pains of hell and the deep pit),
a musician herself, maybe, for she is
                radiant with concentration, and her foot

keeps perfect time (to pass from death to life),
                and whatever the composer could do,
pockmarked and broke and bound for a common grave,
                his half capon for dinner and his yellow

breeches (de morte transire ad vitam),
                she is the one alive now; it is her
moment, come from library or narrow room,
                to thread the jagged gulfs of C minor,

thinking of anything or nothing at all.
                The terror of it, and the utter bliss,
sharpen that right in her, inalienable,
                enabling her to bestow (quia pius es)

on you a smile that somehow counts on yours,
                confiding, even co-conspiratorial,
though she is gone long before the applause,
                just as she came (for thou art merciful).

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 39 Number 7, on page 32
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