by Vern Rutsala
On those last records her voice
sounds almost gone—
cracking, breaking—but hitting
notes wasn't the point.
She was after the bones of beauty
not the flesh. It was far
too late for anything else.
She sang what must happen,
what has, the death of gardenias,
the abyss that the abyss
falls into. It all scraped along
her phrases, extracting the horrible
meat hiding inside simple words,
in the space between each
word, between each note.
And she broke our hearts until
they could break no more,
then broke them one more time
just to make sure we got the point.
Art isn't on the surface,
not some decoration like frosting,
like a flower in your hair—
it's like a silk bag of pulverized
crystal, glinting, sharp,
able to cut in any direction.
Her voice filled every room
in our minds and showed how empty
each was, how desolate
the wind blowing through them
and yet with sticks and stones,
castoffs, garage sale losers
she furnished each one
with a shattered gritty beauty
just before she took it all away.