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Kaleidoscope and Harpsichord | A Poem by Donal Mahoney

As I’ve told my wife too many times,
the meaning of any poem hides
in the marriage of cadence and sound.

Vowels on a carousel,
consonants on a calliope,
whistles and bells,
we need them all
tickling our ears.
Otherwise, the lines
are gristle and fat, no meat.

Is it any wonder, then,
my wife has a problem
with any poem I give her to read
for a second opinion, especially
when the poem has no message
and I’m simply trying to hear
what I’m saying and don’t care
if I understand it.

The other night in bed
I gave her another poem to read
and afterward she said this poem
was no different than the others.
She had hoped I’d improve.

“After all,” she said,
“you’ve been writing for years
but reading a poem like this is
like looking through a kaleidoscope
while listening to a harpsichord.”

Point well taken,
point well said.

But then I asked her
what should a man do
if he has careened for years
through the caves of his mind
spelunking for the right
line for a poem

only to hear his wife say
after reading one of his poems
that it was like
“looking through a kaleidoscope
while listening to a harpsichord.”
What should he do–quit?

“Not a chance,”
she said this morning,
enthroned at the kitchen table,
as regal as ever in her fluttery gown
and buttering her English muffin
with long, languorous strokes
Van Gogh would envy.

“He should write even more,
all day and all night, if need be.
After all,” she said, “my line
about the kaleidoscope and harpsichord
still needs a poem of its own.
It’s all meat, no gristle, no fat.”

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