VIOLIN

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.

RELEASED

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.

A SIMPLE SONG

Much as every person is a Buddha
every guitar can play a simple song.
Some will lay it badly, some will
break a string, some will play
with an unspoken regret, but all
have the capacity, recognized or not,
to create a moment of memory.
On this night there are two,
both skilled, honed of fine wood,
carefully strung, a purity of tone,
and you know neither will
fail to honor the song they play.
But while one shows its mastery,
intricacy of notes dancing
from the soundhole, while the other
sets a gentle rhythm, it is when
the other takes up the song,
that you realize it is playing it
with a depth of soul
that you will not soon forget.

FUGUE

The name on the door
says Richard Strauss
though the lack of music
emanating from within the room
suggests he may be napping
or off doing something more important
than entertaining those of us
out in the hall of the nursing home.
It’s no surprise, he’d be
in a home now, more odd that
he isn’t long dead, but music
has a life of its own, so too musicians.
Johann Bach and I discussed this
just other night, though he
said he has little use
for so much of today’s music,
“It all went to Hades after Wolfgang,
Ludwig and Johannes, but
what do I know, since I am now
just one more of the ancients.”
Johann added, “I’d like to stay
and talk, but when you
are my age, well, tempus fugit,
and I must, therefore, bid you farewell.”
I slid quickly back into
the fugue state of my dreams.