Issue > Poetry
Edward Mayes

Edward Mayes

Edward Mayes has published poems in Poetry, The New Yorker, and The Best American Poetry, with recent poems in The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, AGNI, Colorado Review, Southwest Review, Blackbird, and Crazyhorse. His books include First Language (Juniper Prize, University of Massachusetts Press) and Work and Days (AWP Prize in Poetry, University of Pittsburgh Press). He lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina and Cortona, Italy with his wife, the writer, Frances Mayes. 

Chance By Any Other Name Would Go Awry


That Gabriele from Cortona at thirteen,
Former Romanian orphan, would shoulder
A fisarmonica at the edge of a wheat field
And play, the sweet squeeze, the pleated
Bellows, the blue chanting of chance

All around him, that we are in Rome
At 9 a.m., one-thousand-five-hundred-
And-fifty years after the Vandals first walked
These streets, that the second hand is
Connected to the first hand, the hand

That can no longer sew back the button
On the blue shirt, or pick up the shoes
The oxen may have thrown off in 1923
Or earlier, the day the ridge became
A furrow, the day the plow broke in two,

The day of knuckles and noise and no end
In sight. Use the truffle slicer to shave
A day off one's life, the day curling, or
Breaking into pieces, falling on a bowl
Of risotto. If the rain turning downwards

From the clouds were rice, and the rice
Thrown at the couple on the town hall
Steps were rain. The chapped hands
Of the chaperon, the hawk circling above
Us, its hood still back in its cage,

The chorus of insults that chimes in
When we are intolerably lost, when
The ten-year-old car becomes
The twenty-year-old car, and then
The oil change and lubrication,

The grand rotation of tires. We could
Remember the way it went but not
The words, sound fixed to something
It might mean—the doubt of sound,
The sound of doubt, and by the time

We arrive at the third hand, we're lost
Again, the trail ceases to have any marks
Anymore that say trail. The small stones
The sparrow swallows to grind seeds.
If even two rungs make a ladder.

A lather of sound, sound-leather,
A belt slapping the air, what would
We venture that the tunnel we've
Entered some time ago will eventually
Allow us to see the sun, to walk

Into an air again that takes back
Its blue, that we can come upon
A hat someone has tossed aside,
And we could speculate that it was
One size too large, that the circumference

Of the head it had once been on was
A circumstance, that the hat was
Handed down, haunted by the journey,
The brim bent from the taking off,
From the putting on, the baby too big

To be carried in a hat, the anonymous
Child pressing the white key and then
The black, sway, sway, sway, the way
Home, the home that wasn't there,
There in some pocket of random air,

That which billows sound, that which
Bellows so we can really hear it,
What will befall us, the orphan in us,
The risk that what we stumble upon is
What we've been stumbling upon all along.

Chanced upon, perchance, by chance, off chance; from Latin, cadentia, befall; chance, random, casual, haphazard, desultory, blue chant of chance; cadaver, cadence, caduceus, cascade, chute, accident; decay, deciduous, escheat, incident, recidivism, second hand; Vandals in Rome in 455; caducous, shedding, as amphibians do gills; wry/awry, weird, wrong, rhapsody, worm

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