Conducting Ivy with the Girl Down the Street

A new poem

by Jamaal May
The way the house says 
                      spider web
in a voice
         that looks like
                      aerial roots

scaling the face of this empty Tudor

the way her free hand
                       and mine swoop
and lift air
               like they belong

to conductors
               the way our batons pretend

to not be gnarled sticks
                      the way crescendo smells
like ivy leaves and brick—

it’s almost as if we know what we’re doing.

Every flourish
               conjures more flora
to reclaim
               the crossbeams and silica.

When I say  flutes!
                      and swing my stick
         like a machete
                      through waist-high grass

the girl tells me what the swish of it looks like.

I try to picture a sliver
                      of wind—

detect the sound’s arc.

It’s there for a moment
                       then lost in the shadow
of the building
               our orchestra of vine and leaf

hasn’t quite devoured whole.

When I say  strings!
                      the girl sings

                      without notes

or words       eyes closed

head lolling
           like the breeze

               is doing something
electric to her hair.

She describes the shade of blue gusting

out of her baton
                      as it moves
like an archet
               over strings.

When the girl says       drums!

I break
      into a broken
                       little beatbox

but she covers my mouth

kisses the back of her hand
                    and begins
to articulate
               the green

that just keeps rising out of us.

Jamaal May is the author of Hum, winner of the Beatrice Hawley Award. His poems appear in journals such as the New England Review, Indiana Review, Callaloo, and Ploughshares. He was named the 2011–13 Stadler Fellow at Bucknell University.

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