Apr '03 [Home]

Poetry Feature: Music

Preface by Guest Editor, Mark Nickels

That Spirit ~ Dad, You Fucker ~ Thomas Bauer | Overture ~ Lorna Knowles Blake | Seven Sounds From the Book of Wisdom ~ Robert Klein Engler | forget not me ~ Brenda Gannam | dans l'ensemble ~ Jack Greene | Jewel Case of Sorrowful Songs ~ Thomas Kerr | The Last Snowstorm ~ Jim McCurry | The Comforter ~ J. Morris | Side 4: Couperin, l'Apothéose de Lully ~ Side 7: Prokoviev, Violin Sonatas no. 1 and 2 ~ Mark Nickels

(Saint Cecilia at her Organ, Max Ernst)

Schubert's Silent Rival ~ Baruch November | The Piano String ~ Terence Purtell | Ancestral Refrain ~ Rebecca Seiferle | Bill Evans ~ Daniel Shapiro | Bartók ~ Rob Wright | Lines Not Written To Handel ~ Nomad Song ~ Eric Yost | Mysterious Mountain: Hovhaness ~ Passacaglia, 3rd Movement, Shostakovich 1st Violin Concerto ~ Michael T. Young

(The Concert, Jan Hermansz Biljert)

     Contributor Notes

. . .
That Spirit
Thomas Bauer

What was that spirit in me just now as I played?
Father? Or was that you, Szigetti?
Alfred, your old student, showed me
the up-bow for the preludio he learned from you
and just now something swam into my left hand
some energy up the forearm into my fingering hand
as I played that section like two violins
played despite myself, in awe of this power
announcing a presence that shivered within
and I was detached, almost out of my body
observing the calm center of this piece,
this pyrotechnic piece, as if
it were being performed through me
by this presence, my comforting companion
an energy like a bed on which my movements sleep
soft waves of Bach carrying me away
an ocean of love, pure love
of my father gone from this world
an aching, aching love for a mate
or perhaps the blend of motion and sound
the emotion of being in motion
of making music, painting the air
emanating frequencies of passion and joy
straining to communicate beyond my space
with any kindred spirit who picks it up
is willing to love back with equal passion
yes, a kind of love, or a kind of self
a portion of a greater self, my soul
an aspect of me unrealized
from a greater expanse of being
a higher love within, born through my arm
through fine adjustments, the up-bow
the newly-learned curling of the wrist
my rounded grip as I pull music from the strings
resonance, the springiness of the strings
the bow hairs, the mechanics of my joints
my fingers, elbow, shoulder, neck, spine
my stance, my bent form, bending forward
to catch the music, follow it
as it journeys forth, to catch that energy
as it soars and multiplies itself
until I reach the end, easily and simply
amazed, stopping, falling to my knees, exhaling
grateful to whatever it was in that moment
that this was given to me, to me, today.

The violin bow is to the violin what the breath is to the singer.
—Don Reinfeld, Bow Maker [Article]

~ .

Dad, You Fucker
Thomas Bauer

I'm with you again in a Sibelius storm
smelling your tweed jacket in the heat and sweat
inside this Montreal concert hall, the low hum
of basses and cellos behind the burst of the violin
piercing the middle of the first movement, a scream
rising and cascading and building back to return
to that mournful ominous theme, garlic, beer, sweat
a tweed jacket, academics, a bald head, glasses
you watching these young performers wrestling
with this infernal piece of music, this Everest
for violinists and oh we judge them all by this piece
judge the world and damn and damn it all and fucking hell
why, why, why oh why do things happen?

And even as I ask the answer comes, the resolution
of the oboes, the swooning melancholy melody rejoining
because they do, because things happen that way sometimes
and we weep, struggle, climb the fucking mountains
the secrets of the past, the fuckeduppedness of children and parents,
the war of emotions and struggling with drink
damn it, I fucking hate it sometimes, hate this crap in me
this fucking music, this anguishing torturous climbing
wanting needing never-getting beyond this shit inside
this hand-me-down from generations of fucked up men, old fuckers
bastards, emasculators, torturers of children, you fuckers
you fucking fuckers, I hate you all, all of you, you fucking bastards.

And the hall goes quiet, a clearing in the forest
a pleasant pool of water in the sunlight, with butterflies
or dragonflies, and an old friend approaches from the trees
my comfort, young and strong, the father
who dives into the water and bubbles up laughing
who splashes, kicks and swims, healthy and present
supportive, protective, the one who gave the golden love
when I was a babe and could do no wrong, a dream
a wish, a glitch in my memory, unfulfilled yet real.

The bent man turns to me and smiles, the audience is breathless
the violinist crossed his strings like a bird, the lights
shone in his lenses, and I smiled back thinking I was safe
thinking I was loved, not knowing that this brief happiness
would taunt me when I was older, past loss
in the times when I would feel like a salmon
struggling in the flows of time and sorrow.

Master of The Mended Flute (c.1650 Holland)
The fragility of the flute and the lute echoes the brief duration of the music they make.
Only the butterfly provides a sign of life, the symbol of the resurrection of Christ.

~ . ~

Lorna Knowles Blake

The wet clay sings beneath the potter's hands,
becoming, through the rhythm of that touch,
a vessel filled with intimate music.

What could be more intimate than music
called gently forth, or urgently, by hands
and instruments tuned to the pitch of touch?

In a dark house, at the conductor's touch,
a baton waves a single note of music
into a vibrant symphony of hands—

hands dancing, one touch, and then the music.

~ . ~

Seven Sounds From the Book of Wisdom
Robert Klein Engler

A whistling wind is the sword
of Solomon singing with justice.
The rhythms of violently rushing water
are the chains of our slavery sliding into the sea.
The sound of the most savage roaring beasts
is someone saying, "I don't love you anymore."
The unseen dash of leaping animals is
when you walk where the temple stood
and remember the same space,
but a different time.
An echo from a hollow of mountains comes
when the greedy say, "If we could mint the water,
then we would dry the world."
The harsh crash of rocks hurled down
is to do God's law, but not His love.
The melodious sound of birds is like the dew
of the world to come that shimmers
on the cedars at dawn.

Apollo Struggles with Heracles Over the Oracle Tripod (c. 520 B.C.)

~ . ~

forget not me
Brenda Gannam

her signature
the key of red
with prelude pink
to garnet rhapsody
la vie, sonata
plays herself
upon this
human harpsichord
along whose spine
of ruby ivory
glides the
unseen finger

there will be
no coda, no reprise
breath's music sighs
within the
beat of heart
and cordate
fleur de lys
where fuchsia passioned
grace notes linger
faery fashioned

mine was
trebled clef
of love's
bright blush
the rougéd rush
thrice known
and since

forget not me
four season's
along the
spiraled chromosome
brief moments, ruddy
tick  .  .  .  tick  .  .  .  tick
andante cadence
pulsing, bloody
through the artery
vermilion wine
allegro valse de vie
cherry, carmine
segues into
scarlet nocturne
rose eternity

(Image:  Ariadne on Naxos)

~ . ~

dans l'ensemble
Jack Greene

written to Liszt's Consolation #3 in D-flat

          for John Howard Davis

once released
a bubble will
rise according
to a certain
pace or wind

before it must
burst into air
it will tingle
sheer thimbles
of delight
neither tattered
or torn
without a single
patch or tear

the blesséd rags
you walk upon
dear friend—
a spontaneous
ensemble of magic—
lurk lustfully
in the air

~ . ~

Jewel Case of Sorrowful Songs
Thomas Kerr

We're training through a dark tunnel; a man sits beneath a window:  passing pipes, stanchions, signs are illuminated by the car lights. Then darkness blurs beyond the glass.

He entered the car with a sweeping cane tapping out forward ground, a slow shuffle in largo one and a half beats beyond his step. In left hand a violin; seated its strings are strung against his leg, the bow held loose in a grip of the wooden neck. His striped cane lies inside the arc of arm; his face staring forward with a near-smile. Slowly, to the rhythm of the train, his head nods. Slower yet, two fingers of his free hand tap the bowed back of his instrument.

The track taps an echo, railing into lento, returning from the library. My hands withdraw the jewel case of Gorecki's Symphony No. 3; my throat hums the opening prayer from The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

Behind dark glasses little has changed of his face, it remains; the jewel case is empty; the disc is missing. A strange feeling vibrates with the train as the blind man continues to tap his violin.

~ . ~

The Last Snowstorm
Jim McCurry

A blue light enters.
A book falls from the stack
of its own accord.

The last hiccough
wakens to merge with that
of the unknown friend.

Out there—the first crow croaks.
A black Cadillac lingers, grows larger,
flags dwarfed in the approach.

Am I awake
to all I thought I tried
once feebly to love?

Let us see.
Who asks the question?
Who is the friend?

Feverish feet may chance
the stumble-staccato,
fulfilling invisible

patterns, improvised
dance steps,
certain that the last

shall be first
to enter the invisible

safe from alarms,
the bullies themselves

by majestic jazz.
Even the rasp
of a solitary crow

out there, in the nothing,
caught and wrapped
in choirs of invisible love.

~ . ~

The Comforter
J. Morris

His voice so calm and rational,
appreciative, brandy-smooth.
Not terribly snobbish in his
pronunciation of Le sacre du printemps,
but making a good-faith effort
to deliver a Gallic nasality
on the first syllable of spring.
I welcome this baritone spirit
into my little living room,
for the city surrounds me,
which certainly means I am afraid.
He will give me something Baroque
next, he assures me. In the kitchen
my wife runs water loudly, like static.
I want that assurance, I want comfort,
I want to keep out the jamming pulse
of my angry polytonal nation,
and I want to keep my wife.
Both desires are lately in question.
He smiles from the speakers
and, in describing a Telemann concerto,
seems to bless a community of the wavebands,
a united state of good music lovers.
The union will forever be exclusive.
At this moment I can't see
why it's so wrong to want that.
I even think that God might speak so:
rich tones, full of culture,
inviting us all to Heaven,
securing us against intruders,
conversant in European languages
but refusing a too precious purse
of the lips. The umlauted schön
he leaves a touch imperfect,
in honor of Babel, but then pours his love
and protection down through the cellos,
and fifty thousand watts, and wires.

[Best Individual Poem, Big City Lit Spring 2002 Contest]

~ . ~

Side 4: Couperin, l'Apothéose de Lully
Mark Nickels

Probably it really sounded this enervated,
suggestive of a sad pacing around in the lobby.
There are chestnut trees and something, somewhere is all over.

The first suite, in G minor according to the liner notes,
depicts Lully on the Champs Elysées coaxing lyrical phantoms.
I picture an overcast day, halfway between sticky and coolish.
A little too warm for brocade and a wig, but there you are,
it's 1687. One notes slight little cuts and pops in the atmosphere,
which, in its million releases, is beginning to show its age,
particularly in frontiers of the Old World, or junctions
of the new:  those most revenant-crossed,
those most thickly settled with shades.

This summer seems paler at darkfall than the others were,
washed out like the background of a Watteau,
such that if her slipper were lost while she swings
on the swing hanging from that parkland bough,
it would probably dissolve before dropping
to the raked gravel, as swallows do, dissolving
on the way from there to there.
It just means you can't see it, much like the past,
which is here, which is there.
Look, I'm not having any more of this
phantom rot, it's just plain silly,
said Lully,
who couldn't see the phantoms, and was after a new roll,
a hundred foot roll of dusty rose-colored ribbon
to tie himself to the material world:
strumpets, meudon with caramelized apples,
Spanish sherry that broods in the stomach
like King Philip in his Escorial.
No phantoms for me until they surround me
in some gavotte, like the evening—stately and fading,
and maybe only somewhat indifferent.
I probably love you,
and maybe love you even more than your particularity.
It's all so familiar somehow,
that blindfolded and seeking you in this black and red room
with striated black glossy floors, I can only see colors:
overcast days tinted with rose, clicks and warps in the surface.
Faintly I taste licorice, and on my tongue the slight grit
of wig powder, not to mention the molecular dust
lightly being stirred every time I make a gesture made before,
follow in the trench of a gesture, a gesture
enacted in similar rooms, in other releases…

So there's this slight dust.

When the needle has done turning
over the ballroom floor it trips against the red, round label
again and again, like Lully himself, planting a cane on the parquet
and dragging his suppurating foot,
pierced in a conducting accident with his baton,
in those days like giant spears with doorknobs on the end.
Knock, slide, knock, slide, knock, slide,
this dying is a variable speed drill:  16, 33, 45 revolutions.
But I'm trilling here for you a while longer.

(From Divination By Thunder)

[Link to Fragonard's The Swing—Eds.]

~ .


Allegory of Hearing, Jan van Kessel, Flemish (1626-79)
Amid an array of 17th century musical instruments, a deer's notably sensitive ears.

Side 7: Prokoviev, Violin Sonatas no. 1 and 2
Mark Nickels

The sky over Manhattan is improbably banked,
high with violet and valor, the tulips just bought
so fresh they squeal like monkeys when herded in the vase,
babies from the bath. Give them Sprite, pennies
and Prokoviev, an indication that the waifs home,
in league with the local fat farm (bassoon)
will be helping with the harvest this year.

Eat a pound of glossy black grapes
and take in a variety of non-alcoholic fluids:
pink grapefruit juice, apple cider, bitters in soda,
angostura a flavor as intelligent as, uh,
antique wooden chessmen—knight moves, mostly.
Meanwhile, various platelets and blood cells
quake monochromatically, a tea dance in kinescope,
while out the window a difficult trine threatens,
under which influence do nothing except read for hours,
in a hot refilling bathtub, endless works of fiction.
But March, I said, is not a time to weaken of winter,
a fine china or lace of ice gilding the brook mud,
the deer with latticed flanks, (narrow flutes of bone)
giving each other I would imagine nicknames like "Corncrib" and "Slats."

One morning, go outside. The pilot light
will have been lit for the year, the air chromatic,
complicated with both sanctioned life and pathogens.
Fireflies will light outside down by the pond
where the black swans during moonrise, becalmed,
hovering on the surface, look like bentwood chairs
piled under the marquee after a cloudburst.
This pond is situated on the west side of chromosome 21.

Make a rijstafel if someone will translate
the Dutch on the package, the cognates with German
concealed with the odd J, only a little different,
as different from that as the language of the dead
is from ours, soon after transition:  these dead people
bowing shyly, like horses, like tulips, the brother asking
if there is minced grebe at the buffet,
and has the emmer been parsed, strained, bell-cured?
Every day trim the tulip stems.
Every day they ride lower in the bowl,
like this rhapsody in its cranium case.
Sergei plucks and buzzes in an Empire room
made of stainless steel, Tuesday night in the Me canton,
the nicotine ashmill smoking,
the valley floor laved with Mahler oil soap (really),
and smelling like an opened violin case.

The upstairs neighbor bumps and thrashes,
perhaps drunk but in any case so steeped
in high-test cool he can barely maneuver in this world.
To be everywhere is to be nowhere, and does the same
go for every when? I'm pervious,
so pervious to all times, the instrument on this pained neck
sweetly tanned, smoked, colonized with everything
that's ever been said, smelled, roared, done. Ravished.
Let alone, even.

(From Divination By Thunder)