“This Scene Before”

Listen to Albert Goldbarth reading this poem.

We saw that we’d be mopping up the war in a month,
but a year from then we were still hip-high in its blood pool.
What did Adie and Daniel see for themselves as they danced
their wedding away in both the magisterial circles
of a stately floor-wide Viennese waltz and also, after midnight,
in the intimate frictive circles of some pelvis-grinding jazz? …
you know. You know what endless meadow of pleasure
they planned to explore for another fifty years and how
in four they had exhausted its largesse and started
a policy of slash and burn. For the sci-fi writers
of 1954, 2004 was cities on Mars below
those “plasti-domes,” and wall-long reel-to-reel computers
overseeing the crowded zoom of private “sky cars.”
Ha, to that. The future is always and only

the present writ iffy—until it’s here, and then of course
it’s something else. We’re not to blame; the brain
can’t think outside of thought—or “now” can’t think outside
its physics, to a “next-now.” What
might heaven be like? The afterlife!—what limitless,
unsurveyed possibilities! But in that Book of Hours
from France, one angel (and I’ve written about this
scene before, in an earlier poem—well, here I am again)
is at the organ, playing exquisitely, while this other
works the necessary hand-bellows from behind:
is bent, and laboring. To an angel, evidently,
a cloud is as hard on the knees as a stone floor
in a cathedral somewhere just outside of Paris
one fine morning in the Lord’s year 1420.