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Poetry #100
(published September 19, 2002)
Caruso Sings Santa Lucia
by Barry Blumenfeld

It's a 20th Century universe, Pops,
In which knowing and not knowing
Are just the sides of a coin —
A lead nickel, a 1933 Farouk
Gold dollar, or a piece of
Gethsemane silver, can't say.
All I know is you can't be, say,
A Jew in this town without
You be, also, on the closest of terms
With the closest questions of
Jesusology, like it or not,
Know it or not. And, likewise,
Each and every rocker, rapper,
Jazzbo hipster, Tin Pan
Maniac and polka monster,
Every single soft-shoe master,
And, without exception, each hiphop dancer
From here to Duluth and there to
Mineola is a maestro of listening
When it comes to European
Opera — a knowledge in the passive
Voice, unspeakable. If you had ears
In the nineteen hundreds, it crept
Into them while you weren't paying attention.
There is a sense, for example,
In which the tides of feeling in an
Aria by Caruso are like unto the waves
That break on the sandy fringes of our
Island, surrendering their being
To the spirit of the air in a crisis of
Whitecaps, and we hear the whitecaps,
The dolorous whitecaps, as his
Voice breaks. This is a move none
Of us fails to grasp, any more
Than the meaning of the pairing
Of a shrug with two raised palms
Eludes us. All of that has been true
For centuries, but, now, after those nineteens,
We know more, we know the manifold
Gesture-language of machines, how
They speak and we speak through them.

No metaphor; microphones. His heartbreak
Survives translation by wire, fabric, static.
It is as though the silk of the speaker cone
Were a mask, for propriety's sake,
Over the face of one who sings, but
Who is dead.

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