Rarely, my ex would sing to me, I don’t know what scale he used, maybe Arab, seventeen steps to the octave, or Chinese, five. It was microtonal a- harmonic, its staff was of the bass clef, but I don’t know how far below baritone it went, C below middle C or lower, down into those mineral regions—I would ask it of him directly, I would be lying along him, and would say to him, softly, confiding, “Do me some low notes,” and he’d open his wide, thin-lipped, tone-deaf Cupid’s-bow mouth, and seek down for a breath near the early deposited shales, he would make the male soundings, and if I had been finishing I would again, deep level bubble of a whole note slowly bursting. I think he loved being loved, I think those were the cadences, plagal, of a good, lived life. He liked it a long time, tonic, dominant, subdominant, and now I want to relearn the intervals, to journey with a man among the thirds and fifths, augmented, diminished, with a light touch, sforzando, rallentando, agitato, the usual adores and dotes—and of course what I really want is some low notes.
Sharon Olds teaches poetry workshops in the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at New York University. Her next book, called Odes, hopes to be out September 2016.