Get Up, Please

David Kirby

 
The two musicians pour forth their souls abroad
                         in such an ecstasy as to charm the audience
             like none I’ve ever seen before, and when
they finish, they rise and hug each other,
                         and then the tabla player bends down
and touches the feet of the santoor player in an obvious gesture

of respect, but what does it mean? I don’t find out
                          until the next day at the Econolodge in Tifton, GA,
             where I stop on my way home after the concert
and ask Mrs. Patel, the owner, if she has ever heard
                         of these two musicians or knows
anything about the tabla and the santoor and especially the latter,

which looks like the love child of a typewriter
                          and a hammered dulcimer only with a lot of extra wires
             and tuning posts, and she doesn’t seem to understand
my questions, though when I ask her about one person touching
                         the other’s feet and then bend down
to show her, she lights up and says, "It means he thinks the other

is a god. My children do this before they go off
                          to school in the morning, as though to say, 'Mummy,
             you are a god to us,’" and I look at her
for a second and then surprise us both when I say, "Oh, Mrs. Patel!"
                         and burst into tears, because I think,
first, of my own dead parents and then of little Lakshmi and Padma

Patel going off to their classes in Tift County schools,
                          the one a second-grader who is studying homophones
             (“I see the sea”) and the other of whom is in the fourth
grade, where she must master long division with
                          its cruel insistence on numbers lined
up under one another with exacting precision and then crawling

toward the page’s bottom as you, the divider, subtract
                         and divide again and again, all the while recording
             on the top line an answer that grows increasingly
lengthy as you fret and chew the tip of your pencil
                         and persevere, though before they grab
their books and lunch boxes and pile onto the bus, they take time

to touch Mrs. Patel’s feet and Mr. Patel’s as well,
                          assuming there is such a person. Later my friend
             Avni tells me you touch the feet of your elders
to respect the distance they have traveled
                          and the earth they have touched, and you
say “namaste”not because you take yoga at that little place

on the truck route between the t-shirt store
                          and the strip club but because it means “I bow
             to the light within you,” and often the people being
bowed to will stoop down and collect you as if to say
                         "You too are made of the same light!"
Reader, if your parents are alive, think of them now, of all the gods

whose feet you never touched or touched enough.
                          And if not your parents, then someone else.
             You know someone like this, right? Someone who belongs
to the "mighty dead," as Keats called them.
                          Don’t you wish that person were here now
so you could touch their feet and whisper, "You are my god"?

I can’t imagine Keats saying, “You too are made
                          of the same light,” though I can see him saying,
             as he did to Fanny Brawne, “I have been astonished
that Men could die Martyrs for religion—I have
                          shudder'd at it—I shudder no more—I could
be martyr'd for my Religion—Love is my religion—I could die for that—

I could die for you.” My own feet have touched
                          the earth nearly three times as long as Keats’s did,
             and I’m hardly the oldest person
I know. So let this poem brush across the feet of anyone
                          who reads it. Poetry is
my religion—well, I wouldn’t die for it. I’d live for it, though.
 
Copyright © 2013 by David Kirby. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 16, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Poems by This Author

A Man Like You, But Older by David Kirby
Borges at the Northside Rotary by David Kirby
Elvis Be My Psychopomp by David Kirby
The Exorcist of Notre Dame by David Kirby
The Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart by David Kirby
I'm bouncing across the Scottish heath in a rented Morris Minor


Further Reading

Poems About Aging
Abandonment Under the Walnut Tree
by D. A. Powell
Affirmation
by Donald Hall
Age
by Robert Creeley
Age and Death
by Emma Lazarus
Almost Sixty
by Jim Moore
Beyond the Years
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Blues
by Elizabeth Alexander
Demeter in Paris
by Meghan O'Rourke
E.H.
by John Koethe
El Dorado
by Edgar Allan Poe
Fear of the Future
by John Koethe
First Gestures
by Julia Spicher Kasdorf
Fixed Interval
by Devin Johnston
Forgetfulness
by Billy Collins
Gerontion
by T.S. Eliot
In View of the Fact
by A. R. Ammons
Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year
by Maxine Kumin
Moonlight
by Sara Teasdale
My Lost Youth
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
My Skeleton
by Jane Hirshfield
Poem at Thirty
by Michael Ryan
Preparation
by Effie Waller Smith
Quiet
by Tony Hoagland
Refusing at Fifty-Two to Write Sonnets
by Thomas Lynch
Rock Me to Sleep
by Elizabeth Akers Allen
Self-Portrait
by Adam Zagajewski
Since Nine—
by C. P. Cavafy
The Chicago Poem
by Jerome Rothenberg
The Edges of Time
by Kay Ryan
The Human Seasons
by John Keats
The Tower
by W. B. Yeats
The Widows of Gravesend
by L. S. Asekoff
The Young Man's Song
by W. B. Yeats
this kind of fire
by Charles Bukowski
To a Young Girl at a Window
by Margaret Widdemer
To Chloe: Who for his sake wished herself younger
by William Cartwright
To Earthward
by Robert Frost
to my last period
by Lucille Clifton
To Think of Time
by Walt Whitman
Two Horses and a Dog
by James Galvin
When You are Old
by W. B. Yeats
Poems about Music
08/22/08
by David Lehman
A Book Of Music
by Jack Spicer
A Score for Tourist Movies
by Mary Austin Speaker
A Violin at Dusk
by Lizette Woodworth Reese
Alexander's Feast; or, the Power of Music
by John Dryden
B-Sides from my Idol Tryouts
by Harmony Holiday
Beagle or Something
by April Bernard
Fiddler Jones
by Edgar Lee Masters
Go Greyhound
by Bob Hicok
Here and Now
by Stephen Dunn
Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio
by Carl Sandburg
Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness
by John Donne
Hymn to the Night
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Interlude: Still Still
by Robin Behn
Latin & Soul
by Victor Hernández Cruz
Little Fugue
by Marianne Boruch
Lost Fugue for Chet
by Lynda Hull
Lullaby in Blue
by Betsy Sholl
Mozart
by Caroline Knox
Ode to Lil’ Kim in Florence
by Barbara Hamby
On 52nd Street
by Philip Levine
Passing Through Albuquerque
by John Balaban
Poem for You
by David Shapiro
Record
by Katrina Vandenberg
Street Music
by Robert Pinsky
The Banjo Player
by Fenton Johnson
The Day Duke Raised: May 24th, 1974
by Quincy Troupe
The Everyday Enchantment of Music
by Mark Strand
The Guitar
by Federico García Lorca
The Last Evening
by Steven Kronen
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
by Edward Lear
The Supremes
by Mark Jarman
The Waltz We Were Born For
by Walt McDonald
The Weary Blues
by Langston Hughes
The World Doesn’t Want Me Anymore, and It Doesn’t Know It
by Sean Singer
Two Pages, 122 Words on Music and Dance
by John Cage
Untitled
by David Meltzer
Water Music
by Robert Creeley