Shelley’s Guitar

Listen to Michael Collier reading this poem. How much more beautiful it is because it’s Shelley’s guitar— a coffin of trapped song in a body like a grave.

Because it’s Shelley’s guitar
it’s been put on display,
a case within a case,
a wooden hand inside a velvet glove.

And nearby, the copy of Adonais
that held his heart for thirty years.
Next to it, other incomparable relics:
his baby-rattle, a watch, the plate

off which he ate the beautiful
raisins of his diet. Everything
encased, preserved, though
the heart now is only a stain, a watermark

on pages his widow used to save it.
Never mind the guitar was given to his friend,
Jane, as if it were the heart
unauctioned, a neck

with tuning pegs, gut strings, arabesque
filigree. And never mind the guitar
was meant to be a pedal harp
he couldn’t afford. “Take this slave

of music,” the poem says, “for the sake
of him who is the slave of thee.”
Whose heart is it but Shelley’s?
Whose grave, whose book, and glove and raisins?

All those things that have been given
either by “action or by suffering,”
left behind, collected, to prove
the dead have substance.