We sat at the table,
sucking the last of the djej
from the bones piled
along the edge of the platter.
“I played for seven years”
he said, “under Tilson-Thomas
and later Rudel, bad years those,
I sat two rows back
second from the stage edge.”
He was unremarkable,
forgettable until he nestled
the violin under his chin.
Balding even then
the fringe of hair clownish,
lacking only a red nose.
At the old metal desk
he struggled over applications
for insurance policies,
forever asking if he had
the premiums calculated right,
stumbling over the pitch,
dreading the word death,
preferring to talk of his bow
dancing across the strings.
He sold just enough policies
to make his monthly draw
and generate an override commission
to help pay our mortgage
but he would, my father said,
never make much
of a career in insurance.
When I sat in the office
on the old leather sofa
he asked me to marvel
that an old man, bitter
and stone deaf, could hear
so clearly, alone in a small room.
I listened politely, waiting
until he might be distracted
and I could return to neatly
arranging the pink sheet
between the whites
feeding it carefully through
the rollers, and slowly peeling
it back to reveal
the dark sepia copy.
He sits on the metal bed
fingers bent into talons
and cringes at the screech
of the walker
dragging along the hall.
He wrestles with the radio knob
and hears the strains of the concerto
as a tear runs down his cheek
and he waits for the nurse
to change his incontinence pad.
First Appeared in Licking River Review, Issue 28, Winter-Spring 1996-1997.
In any half respectable pub in Galway,
and in Ireland the county of place
hardly matters, when enough pints
have been passed, and night
grows thick, even such as I, claiming
to be part Irish, claiming two left feet,
can feel the ceili deep within, and step out
on the floor to do what I think is a jig.
And when I am quite done, a fresh pint
of Guinness in hand, I can expect a clap
on the back from one and all, smiles
and the suggestion that I am probably Scottish.
None of this will matter the next morning,
as the fog lifts over the Claddagh, and
my brain, and I will write the evening off
as but one more joyous memory of home.
He sits, suited in black, with 88
keys at his command, and we fall silent.
He opens the lock of joy,
the lock of sadness,
the lock of elation,
the lock of tears,
the lock of laughter,
the lock of darkness,
the lock of light,
the lock of surprise,
the lock of compassion,
the lock of love,
and we peer through each door,
unable to enter fairly
unable to turn away.
As we walk out, we know
we have tasted Buddha’s promised truth
and we go off in search
63,999 remaining Dharma doors.
The first time I heard Mozart,
I swore I was in a biblical garden
and I was content to sit and listen for eternity.
The serpent came along, as they do in such gardens,
as I recall, with the face of Beethoven, though now
I am convinced it was just Mahler trying to pass.
I still stop and eat from the fruit of Mozart on occasion,
but once the food was there for the taking, but
now it has to be purchased, and even here
you pay and never know until you bite into it
just how fresh and juicy it might be.
And lately, so much has been overpowering
that I cannot digest it,
and my growing deafness makes
each purchase agonizing, even though
I know if I went without, I
wouldn’t starve, save for my soul.
You are driving through the Florida
that once was, that is off the coast,
and out of Orlando, the Florida
of jalousie windows, run down once gas stations
and the more than occasional double wide.
Suddenly, you are in a Disney version
of a semi-tropical New England, gated villages
where cars have been supplanted by an endless
stream of golf carts, where the Disney smile
is a permanent fixture of most every face.
In the community, as you walk into
the town center, a town square imagined
by Rodeo Drive, each night at five
a wave of golf carts arrive , to plastic
lawn chairs laid out in neat array
soon to fill with those who so well remember
when the songs to be played, and they, were young.
It happened again last Friday as it does almost every Friday. A quick check discloses another band has released an album Live In Concert. Pause to consider the absurdity. If you are in concert the odds are astronomically in favor of your being live. I suppose someone would attend a concert where the band wasn’t there, but not this kid. I will make the rare exception to my frustration where irony demands, but it isn’t all that demanding. Still, you’ve gotta love any Grateful Dead live album, and I’m good with any Live live album. At least I no longer need to question just how it is that Dead Can Dance but I cannot, for all It’s autumn and time to take in Smashing Pumpkins again.
When I was twelve, I think,
maybe in the last days of eleven,
and in my third year of piano lessons
my teacher, Mrs. Schwarting, she
of no first name, and a steady hand
that could squeeze the muscle
of my shoulder, a taloned metronome,
gave me a small plastic bust
of Beethoven, told me to place it
on the piano, so that he could watch
my daily practice and insure
my eyes were on him, not the keys.
Ludwig is long gone, lost
in one of our moves, one less
gatherer of the dust of other activities.
Now, sitting on the bench,
flexing fingers demanding independence
I realize that his smile was one
of age, thankful for his deafness.
Previously published in Fox Cry Review, Vol. 23, 1997 and in PIF Magazine, Vol. 20, 1999.