It begins lowly
quietly, then grows
until, all players
together, it hits
a point where
you hope it is
but it still grows
and you retreat
from the club,
of wine on the table,
when you reach
the back door
your evening is over.
There are things in life
that are quite clearly beyond
any rational explanation.
Take, as an example, the song
that crawls into your head
and absolutely refuses to leave.
If it were Mozart or Bach
it might be excusable, if Beethoven
at least reluctantly forgivable,
but it is never the great masters.
Tonight, it is the ancient song
“Lemon Tree,” and there is little worse
then Trini Lopez crawling around your head.
refusing adamantly to leave.
I could live with Peter,
Paul, would welcome Mary
But this is Trini’s night and I
must be thankful Tony Orlando
and Barry Manilow took the night off.
I made it past 27, which says I’m either an optimist or have almost no musical talent. When I made it through 54 I knew I’d never get burned buried in Paris, never be mourned as a great talent taken or taking myself too young. Now it’s five years until 72 and I know if I make it, I’ll never have the guts, sense, or stupidity to do myself in, so lets now all lift a glass to Jim and Janice, Robert and Jimmy, and hope they play Kurt and Amy when my ferryman finally arrives.
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.