The Robert Watson Literary Prize Poem THE VOICE BEFORE

Spring 2008: Issue 83

Melody S. Gee

Echoes uncurl down this canyon

     like patient honey rolling. Rocks repeat

everything I say. A tree falls

               as many times as I can hear it.


My body in shadows—misshapen

     echoes of light thrown

through cedars and ivory birch.

               You are the body in my throat,


pitched into this low vein of earth,

     cast over bald stones, pierced

on tentacles of aloe, and gummed

               in their heat-split stalks.


What was that voice before the voice released,

     the unheard body, the naked, shivering

idea of sound? What are you now, climbing toward

               my mouth out of the canyon mouth,


surrounding me with screams of torn

     clover and broken shale, a body broken whole

from my teeth? I would lay out

               the prairie of my tongue, my throat,


but you do not want return

     as I do. You have grown too thin

in the shape of air, in the sound of yourself,

               for bodies anymore.


               The first sound was an emptying.

The first return, departure.