ALL THAT I HAVE
We’re in a busy shopping mall, very crowded—
this was before the virus—and an ordinary-looking man
walks out of the crowd into the center of the atrium.
He’s middle-aged, wearing a leather jacket, hands in his pockets.
And he starts to sing. He opens his mouth and starts to sing,
loudly and clearly. At first you think he’s crazy,
he’s some kind of crank, but then you realize, wait a minute,
his voice is beautiful, it’s powerful—he’s singing
a famous aria—he’s singing Nessun Dorma, from Puccini.
This guy’s a tenor, this ordinary man who has emerged
from the crowd is a tenor, and he’s a great tenor, and his voice
is building and rising, and people are stopping and looking,
the expressions on their faces are changing, people who
would never be caught dead at an opera, who don’t have any idea
what opera is, they’re stopped in their tracks. One little girl
turns around and looks up at her mother, amazement
in her eyes. O look at the stars, the tenor sings, that tremble of love
and hope, and his voice builds and builds, it rises to its climax,
and he hits that final, high note, and he holds it, holds it
until it’s ringing in the air of that crowded mall, and something
transcendent has happened, something wonderful has risen up
out of that ordinary gray day, something excellent and pure,
and everyone knows it, they feel it, and they burst into applause,
burst into tears. They clap and clap. And the tenor smiles,
and looks around, then puts his hands in his pockets and walks
back into the crowd. He disappears. O that I might hold
my one note and walk away! O that I might disappear!
—from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Chris Anderson: “During the pandemic, I happened to watch a video about a flashmob in a shopping mall in Leeds, and it moved me so much I sat down and wrote the poem more or less in one fell swoop. Later, as I was polishing it, I realized that it was about poetry, too, as I guess every poem is underneath. We are all singing our arias in the mall, and we all want them to matter somehow, to make a difference, however briefly, even though we soon disappear, back into the crowd.” (web)