Vanessa Stauffer

The Age of Bronze

            The Bronze Age, thought to have occurred between 3500 and 1000 BC,
                  saw the development of copper alloys, which could be used to produce
                  more efficient weapons of destruction, as well as to create objects of
                  aesthetic pleasure.

—Jane Mayo Roos, Auguste Rodin 

The crowd surges & parts, funneled
in a stream across the bridge, one voice
made up of many: peal of a horn, fragmented
shout, gestures & sounds sharing the accent
meaning now. From half a block awayI hear the alto lift like a leaf
over the engines, swept on the heat
Market breathes above the river.
Each sound spills into the next
as the Schuylkill swells its banks, fat & fastwith the first spring rain. The song draws me in
like a tether, slender wand swaying
on a prayer of wind: “Willow Weep
For Me.” All afternoon I watched
sun change the shape of the sculpturesentineled over the garden: serrated
ridge of the ribcage, soft hollow
under the jaw, bright teardrop welled
above the knee, the weighted muscle
round & gleaming. The brackish patina

shifted as hours dragged shadow
across him, sun compressed in the gathering
dark, bronze-cast & solid, his planted foot
counterweight to the one lifting:
the body divided. I wanted to see

in his eyes fallen shut, contrapposto
of shoulder & hip, anything but myself
standing motionless, riven by the choice
to step forward or back, to open
the lungs with a deep-drawn breath

or contract, muscle tightened to lift
the fist, empty, still holding the memory of
a spear. What moment is this? Everywhere
the city is weeping, awash with blossoms:
white storm from the pear & the dogwood,

pink torrent of the cherry bowing,
weighted with blooms. I want to lie down
in the stars the petals scatter
atop these cobbled streets—how is it
I am still alive, born as I am into a people

so torn by beauty, so hopeless
in love each spring they turn their sorrow
against themselves, their fear to blind rage,
the softness of their palms
hidden in fists? I’m searching my pockets

for coins, some way to evade
the horn player’s gaze, some way
to connect without risking his eyes
looking in mine when I see the sign
propped in his case: Unconditional

truth requires courage. The weight
of my limbs. He’s leaning into his song
like a reed, his breath a song
so keening & sweet, on the banks
I make a prayer of the willow:

let it cover over me.

Vanessa Stauffer holds MFA and PhD degrees from the University of Houston. She is the author of a chapbook, Cosmology (dancing girl press & studio), and her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Cimarron Review, Cincinnati Review, The Puritan, and West Branch. She teaches creative writing and literature at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.