Apr '03 [Home]

Poetry Feature: Music

Preface by Guest Editor, Mark Nickels

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)

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)

     Contributor Notes

. . .
~ . ~

Schubert's Silent Rival
Baruch November

Not after numerous lifetimes
will I see why you sleep
with Schubert
playing, while I breathe
and fumble for you
nightly without a virtuoso
to cull sobs out
of hollowed wood for you.

Strung tauter than any violin
Without you, I press
the highest octave of your missing
chords, nowhere firm
to rest my chin.

~ . ~

The Piano String
Terence Purtell

do you know what it's like
to be a piano string
stretched to its limit
feeling the hammer blows every day
taut metal waiting to
but not able to cannot
just dying to break
would make it so much easier
just snap all done
there you have it the
performer performing on you
but you are metal
a tool machine computer
built for efficiency and your
fuel or whatever the hell keeps
the strings strong is exhausted now
and one hammer
could be anything any
random miniscule hammer
and the entire world's eyes upon
you hear the POP! and
murmurs through the audience
you've already lost some function
because it was so, so much easier to not have to
deal with the tightness, irritated a certain threshold
rusting coils cried overload
midway through a standard-sounding pitch
the sound breaks into static
the uproar the maestro's rage suppressed
but none of them can talk to you
because you are not you don't hear it doesn't reach
you have disconnected, not like you would have heard a thing when connected
for you were metal all along and any criticisms hit that string the hammers
hit and they bounced right off and it couldn't get through
but it can't get through anyway
either you repel and stop caring
or BWONG! there goes the freakin' concerto because no one understands
how the fuck to care for a piano string
assumed to do its job 24-7 and at an odd time recoiling FWAP!
unloosing a riot in the black-tied cummerbunded concert hall
so that amidst the brawl they forget you're the most obvious cause you the piano string not doing your job
and instead look to blame some no-name piano tuner who tweaked your peg a bit too far because you are only
a mechanism not any being or conscience with that capability of taking blame
that inhumanity may seem bad that quality exempt from moral responsibility
but it was really enough to be stretched that far
and way too easy to snap
too easy to not see it coming
and not to ever consider to not entertain the possibility because you are too in
love with and know your function too well
but (right from the start, you heard fate and its death knell)
it would not be too late
even if you endure the piercing agony when that string pops
you got about 175 disintegrations to go yet
teeth clenched all the way

Woman at a Virginal, Gabriel Leiden Metsu (1629-67), Amsterdam

~ . ~

Ancestral Refrain
Rebecca Seiferle

I hate the sound of the bagpipes. Each morning
as we go from lecture hall to classroom, dozens
of children, bussed in to practice for a week,
march up and down, pumping their arms and elbows
like flightless birds trying to take flight, changing
their individual breaths into a chorus of keening,
dirges mourning, the piercing of Scottish war songs.
Yet, the woman who turns to me this morning
is rapturous at being Scot. "It's so serene, that lilting
refrain, it reminds me of my heritage," her face tilts
like that white island catching the breaking sun.
"It's Gary Owen," I choke out, "the damned song
Custer played before each 'battle.'" Such élan
swinging into the waking hours, the bayonets
flashing along the banks of the Little Washita,
though by then the music was silent, slicing
into the tents of the sleeping Cheyenne. The fighting
itself lasted only a few minutes, though it took hours
to finish off the warriors hiding in the brush, then
to slaughter all the horses, for the army first tried
to cut their throats, but the animals were too afraid
of the smell of the white men, so the cavalry called
for more ammunition—it took 800 rounds to kill all
the horses—and Custer's final tally listed 103 fighting
men killed. In truth, only 11 could be so classified…
the other 92 were women, children, and old men.
We're both startled by my vehemence; her Scottish
fingers twitch in her plaid scarf, as if trying to unravel
that loose thread of undisclosed genealogy. Still
she pleads, "I didn't know, it sounds so sweet,"
and "it's the voice of my ancestors." Of course,
she's right, it is the voice of our ancestors—
all war cries, in any language, the children rehearsing,
trying to get just right, each note in a song of slaughter.

(The 2002 winner of the Western States Award, Rebecca Seiferle
edits The Drunken Boat.She lives in northern New Mexico.)

~ . ~

Bill Evans
Daniel Shapiro

Someone called his existence
The longest suicide in history.
Death grants an extension to those
Who coax beauty out of black and white.

In his later years, he wore a beard,
Hiding disfigured, cracked lines,
A far cry from the fluid ones
That flowed through his fingertips.

The photo showed him with head down,
Surging from block chords to arpeggio.
He heard bassist and drummer in his soul,
Still swollen, but almost all he had left.

He leaned on triplets in the end
So he wouldn't fall from the bench.
Deaths come in threes, after all,
And he had to wait for Nos. 1 and 2.

~ . ~

Rob Wright

Bartók not only brought back songs
from the Ruthenian hills,
the sea of Marmara,
and a dozen places, whose names
are only now remembered
because of him, but the tones
of flat-pitched chanters,
drilled with hand-made bits,
and blunted fingers
more accustomed to the rhythms
of knobbled wheels
than Viennese dances.

And the way a player's fingers slow,
stiffened with age,
autumnal cold,
knuckles swollen stiff from digging;
drunken, modal fingerings
on fiddle boards which, after all,
lived in the same daub and wattle,
and suffered as men and women suffer:
birthed, shriven, dragooned to war,
black harvests, senility.
And the last flicker of a soul
in a bear's eyes, moving timorously
to the bitter humor
of shrove-tide yokels,
armed with birch goads.

The smell of fieldaw burned wet,
uncurried horses,
rotted teeth, plum brandy.
And the seignorial respect
given, however reluctantly,
to an indifferent, bootless deity
who can only be teased
from seasonal tantrums,
and petty grievances
with widows keening
to counting dances.

The Rustic Concert, Adriaen van Ostade (1610 -1685, Haarlem)

~ . ~

Lines Not Written To Handel
Eric Yost

Shut up, says the door to the room.

Listen to what music has done to poems:
burbling spheres, effete lyres, dead guitars,
that interminable loudmouth nightingale,
a wartime jukebox in the midtown dive,
elegant rag, diamond stylus of the dead.

Better to have engraved shotguns, looms,
grapes bursting against the virgin's palette.
If a chainsaw fights an obbligato on greenwood,
fire it up anyway. I cannot write to music,
but always find a song in noise.

~ .

Nomad Song
Eric Yost

We have learned a way of singing
In the golden early evening
Crossing orange sands and flowers
Over mountain shaded forests
On bright and rolling oceans
Walking city streets at night:

To find what is not dying
In mountain, sea, or city
To treat it like a brother,
Like a sister, like a child,
To leave what's in us dying
As a song to what sustains us
As a memory of our living
As a pledge of our attention
To the travel still before us
In the music that surrounds us
Kept in balance out of time.

Though nothing sung can join us
To the past that grows behind us
We have loved what cannot leave us
We have learned to find our home.

We have learned a way of singing
In the golden early evening
Crossing orange sands and flowers
Over mountain shaded forests
On the bright and rolling ocean
Walking city streets at night.

~ .

Mysterious Mountain:  Hovhaness
Michael T. Young

This is not a mountain but the sound of one,
its slope arcing the same curve as closed eyes,
the climb of someone sleepwalking up its side,
or listening to an orchestra and knowing
the bass strings are rooted in their wood
and the trees they came from vibrate
lifting each passage to its proper altitude.
But whatever the range, however high the violins go,
and though a movement might peak
and the score might indicate a rest,
there is no plateau, there is no summit,
there is no view, for the mountain
has more in common with water than earth.
It passes like a wave, settles in the ear like surf,
rising in the listener, a memory of elsewhere
that he wakes to everywhere he goes.

~ .

3rd Movement,
Shostakovich 1st Violin Concerto
Michael Young

This river slows and trembles, a violin string
vibrating between the banks of a wartime town.
It dashes its high notes against a few rocks,
and further on, tosses an alluvial fan of sand and dirt,
artifacts and relics flung ashore,
a spindrift lifted into an orchestra of singed elms.
How it looses itself in its losses,
the evaporation of its passing, its current
throwing faint light back into the smoldering.
But nothing is forgotten, only attenuated
in the drifting dilutions of history, small drops
that wet the branches and remaining leaves.
There, in the green reticulations, the bark's crevices,
it is a thought, it is all that's remembered
and is enough for a hawk to feed on,
for men leaving their ruins to emerge on shore
and see it take to flight above the smoking tree-line.