by Greg Rappleye
Throw your voice!
Amaze your friends!
-1950’s comic book advertisement
Bought in a Saco junk shop and recalled from Captain Marvel, it’s a tin loop,
a shattered whelk—beveled by waves so as not to cut—by which I once believed
a voice might be thrown at all bodies, living and dead. Sugared in whiskey, against
my wintered lips, it throws no voice; merely renders a flutter, a trill, a whirred falsetto
song. Listen. St. Stephen’s Feast. The Wren Parade. A scatter of snow across herring-boned bricks. The wren-boys mill in straw hats and reedy suits. The captain shouts,
a din rises. A canvas horse, rushes tacked along its canvas flanks, is made to gallop
by a boy’s pumping arms, giving chase, or seeming-so, as the wren-boys, their captain,
the cacophonous tangles of snare drums and penny whistles, of trombones and bodhráns, begin to unspool; from a jumbled knot to a ragged marching column. At its lead, besieged by revelers—a felt wren, so-sung King-of-all-Birds, is hung from a stripling ash, dead to all, his high-stick ribboned in Gaelic green, in orange, the wren’s body dangled in mistletoe, in blood-berried holly, rising above a flag of Mayo, the flags of Connacht, eight flags of a golden harp rampant in a field of green; so many flags of the left-behind provinces. We sang from lyrics scattered among us—I have a little box under my arm / a tuppence or penny will do it no harm—the wren-boys, their feigned surliness, drowning out the beggared words and lost with them, my best try at a wren’s true voice, tossing a rush-and-tumble song where I alone thought to throw it—across the rye grass, curling through dulse and knapweed, warbled across a swale on Oak Street, echoed against the three-story tenement where my grandfather fried pogies and coughed a turburcular cough; tracking his rent in a green notebook, each entry an epitaph, made in a spidery blue script. And no one heard the true song. What is a true song, warbled at sow thistle, whispered from trailing arbutus, from coltsfoot, when a great parade is loudly passing? We sang without thought, not yet amazed, missing a little point (there may have been others), of how the wren—its throaty squeals, its assault of cuffy scolds—saved Stephen from the Norse, luring them far from a hidden saint and across a darkling bog, until the desperate bird fell and was killed for its kindness, pummeled and hung above a great fire—broken-winged, blooded, trussed and bound—the King-of-all-Birds, set aflame; dangled from the Tree-of-Heaven. Will you not toss a penny, we sang, to buy this king a grave?
About the Author
Greg Rappleye’s second collection of poems, A Path Between Houses (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000) won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. His third collection, Figured Dark (University of Arkansas Press, 2007) was co-winner of the Arkansas Prize for Poetry and was published in the Miller Williams Poetry Series. His fourth collection, Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds, was published in the fall of 2018 by Dos Madres Press. He teaches in the English Department at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.