Ryan Teitman

Orpheus, 1865

after Gustave Moreau

No one knew if the fiddler was a Lincolnite. When Sarah’s boy came back from the river with a gash across his forehead, he stood in the doorway with his hands hiding the wound, refusing to cross the threshold. A stripe of blood sashed his shirt from shoulder to hip, marking where he had wiped his hands. Sarah led him inside and set him on an upturned washtub. She pried his hands apart, like she was opening a little tabernacle. The cut was not long or deep; her boy just was a good bleeder. Her husband’s shirts were all she had for bandages. As she washed the boy’s face, the boy said, I fell, Ma, I got so scared.

Sarah held the fiddler’s head in her hands as if it were a melon from her garden. She wondered how long it had been there, at the bank of the river, the body nowhere she could see. Moss had overgrown his ears, but his skin was still the color of hay. His eyes were closed softly, like those of a sleeper, not someone who had met his end in pain. She remembered her wedding night, when the fiddler played long past sunset, how he sprinkled a fistful of dogwood petals over her when the last song ended, how she had danced for so long that she barely had the strength to make love to her husband. She carried the head back to the farm and hid it in the bottom of a cider barrel. They hadn’t seen apples in years. But that night, she swore she heard a man’s singing, as if from the bottom of a deep well, as if she, alone in bed, braided into her blankets, were the only rope that could hoist him above the earth.

Ryan Teitman is the author of Litany for the City, which won the A. Poulin Jr. Prize and is forthcoming from BOA Editions. He is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.
MORE POEMS