Seven verses in, he has stepped out from the tuxed
and taffetaed quartet of soloists. He has begun to sing:
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call
his son Emmanuel. Amplified by good acoustics, the hall
is rustling accompaniment to the countertenor’s solo:
Lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid.
Arise, shine; for thy light is come. From my seat
next to my parents, high in the mezzanine,
I can see heads turning, bending toward each other,
toward the program, small lights coming on
above the paper. My parents restrain
themselves. But the rest of the hall
is turning to the biography. Is lifting
opera glasses. Is straining ears to hear him:
Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped. He is singing
the alto’s part in her key, his voice light and clear.
Whispering underscores the music:
What is this high, sweet voice in a tuxedo?
I am transfixed. I want to reach under his starched
shirtfront and find a different sex. Listen to him—
He was despised and rejected of men; a man
of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.
He’s singing the score and another story alongside it:
He hid not his face from shame. Through
these old words, he is making song
of the drag queen and the bulldyke.
Let him sing without the accompaniment
of rustle. Let him sing without any doubt
between body and voice: high but not shrill,
more lovely than the wide-skirted soprano,
the chunky tenor, the dapper bass. I watch
his shine-parted hair, his weight shift at key change.
Thou art gone up on high, thou hast led captivity
captive, and received gifts for men.
Afterwards, in the bar, where anemones
splay open and salmon flick through
canals designed for our wonder, no one
mentions the countertenor. My parents,
I think, are trying to navigate the appropriate
path of the moment, as am I. But he’s all
I can think of, his rolled rs, Adam’s apple
lifting his tie at crescendo. Onstage,
Then shall be brought to pass the saying
that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
billed as high culture, this unsettlement,
this beauty applauded at last.
Most of the poems in Interpretive Work were published before content was widely available online.
I wanted to make some of them more accessible here.