Two Poems

Temple Cone



Why do Chopin’s fingers slip into the piano keys

seamlessly as gondolas into a canal? The étude

of our loneliness begins with rainfall and dwindles to sand.


Today, I couldn’t help it, I wore shoes deep as a grave.

I had to keep running, or the grass would thread its way up

and root me to earth, bind me to cloud-swept skies.


Slow violin music pouring from an open balcony door

hushes the city’s requiems. From fumes of champagne,

spirits rise and drink again, intoxicated with their own bodies.


Galileo invented the telescope after seeing one in Venice.

In only a few years his investors lost all their profits.

Then again, he was the first to aim it at the stars.


Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal, said Eliot,

adding footnotes to The Waste Land to satisfy his publisher.

Shakespeare nicked every plot save his finale, The Tempest.


The gods have only one face: eternity. Mortals have many.

Greek actors wore carved masks to play heroes playing at gods.

Comedy or tragedy, the gods’ laughter filled the amphitheatre.






Outside I hear the sobbing: in dogwood flowers, wrens, cirrus clouds.

A violin plays in an open field, beneath a sky feeling its way to blue.

I’ll have to open the door sometime. The sobbing wants its bowl, its bed.


Hemingway was getting close to the soul, not just America, in “The Killers.”

We’re all eating sandwiches before a hit, or awaiting a footstep on the stairs.

Sometimes, after our shift, we try to warn the Swede and it does no good.


And still the spiritual history of coral remains unwritten. Oceanic saints,

they wake each night, moon-laved, opening their filigreed mouths

to the manna of tides, and build rainbow temples of their bodies.


Andrew Marvell, your spirit is here, a green thought in a green shade.

Yes, we make the world of things into a world of forms. Platonic shorthand.

But I go on wishing the firefly’s light more than just echoed the sun.


When envy slips the chrysalis of my mind, and I relish the fall of presidents,

the vision of a blue heron standing in a hushed spring snowfall visits me,

so close I might have touched its wing before it flew away.


I know we’re meant to carry these images through the desert. Unasked-for,

they replace household gods who were merely pieces of painted clay.

But whether they’ll help us find water amid all this sand, no one can say.

 About the Writer
Split Lip Press

Temple Cone is associate professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy and the author of three books of poetry, most recently That Singing. For more information, see