American Life in Poetry: Column 143


Here is Arizona poet Steve Orlen’s lovely tribute to the great opera singer, Maria Callas. Most of us never saw her perform, or even knew what she looked like, but many of us listened to her on the radio or on our parents’ record players, perhaps in a parlor like the one in this poem.

In the House of the Voice of Maria Callas

In the house of the voice of Maria Callas   
We hear the baby’s cries, and the after-supper   
Rattle of silverware, and three clocks ticking   
To different tunes, and ripe plums   
Sleeping in their chipped bowl, and traffic sounds   
Dissecting the avenues outside.   We hear, like water   
Pouring over time itself, the pure distillate arias   
Of the numerous pampered queens who have reigned,   
And the working girls who have suffered   
The envious knives, and the breathless brides   
With their horned helmets who have fallen in love   
And gone crazy or fallen in love and died   
On the grand stage at their appointed moments—   
Who will sing of them now?   Maria Callas is dead,   
Although the full lips and the slanting eyes   
And flared nostrils of her voice resurrect   
Dramas we are able to imagine in this parlor   
On evenings like this one, adding some color,   
Adding some order.   Of whom it was said:   
She could imagine almost anything and give voice to it.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2001 by Steve Orlen. Reprinted from “The Elephant’s Child: New & Selected Poems 1978-2005,” by Steve Orlen, published by Ausable Press, 2006, by permission of the author. First published in The Gettysburg Review. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.