Saturday, October 5, 2019



Whenever my father was left with nothing to do —
waiting for someone to 'get ready',
or facing the gap between graduate seminars
and dull after-suppers in his study
grading papers or writing a review —
he played the piano.

I think of him packing his lifespan
carefully, like a good leather briefcase,
each irritating chore wrapped in floating passages
for the left hand and right hand
by Chopin or difficult Schumann;
nothing inside it ever rattled loose.

Not rationalism, though you could cut your tongue
on the blade of his reasonable logic.
Only at the piano did he become
the bowed, reverent, wholly absorbed Romantic.
The theme of his heroic, unfinished piano sonata
could have been Brahms.

Boredom, or what he disapproved of as
'sitting around with your mouth open'
oddly pursued him. He had small stamina.
Whenever he succumbed to bouts of winter bronchitis,
the house sank a little into its snowed-up garden,
missing its musical swim-bladder.

None of this suggests how natural he was.
For years I thought fathers played the piano
just as dogs barked and babies grew.
We children ran in and out of the house,
taking for granted that the 'Trout' or E flat Major Impromptu
would be rippling around us.

For him, I think, playing was solo flying, a bliss
of removal, of being alone.
Not happily always; never an escape,
for he was affectionate, and the household hum
he pretended to find trivial or ridiculous
daily sustained him.

When he talked about music, it was never
of the lachrimae rerum
that trembled from his drawn-out phrasing
as raindrops phrase themselves along a wire;
no, he defended movable doh or explained the amazing
physics of the octave.

We'd come in from school and find him
cross-legged on the jungle of the floor,
guts from one of his Steinways strewn about him.
He always got the pieces back in place.
I remember the yellow covers of Schirmer's Editions
and the bound Peters Editions in the bookcase.

When he defected to the cello in later years
Grandmother, in excrucio, mildly exclaimed,
'Wasn't it lovely when Steve liked to play the piano.'
Now I'm the grandmother listening to Steve at the piano.
Lightly, in strains from Brahms-Haydn variations,
his audible image returns to my humming ears.

The Exact Change


He slaughtered a six of Miller in thanks
when his supposed schizophrenia turned
out to be mere panic, fewer than half
the syllables and “easily managed with
the new medications.” Chanted that mantra
when his piano teacher’s voice droned on
like an undertow beneath Chopin hours
after she herself had gone home to Queens
and when stop signs seemed to say slightly more
than stop, seemed in fact to convey highly
specific messages to him and him alone
suggesting he assume certain key
responsibilities including twenty-four-hour
telephone contact with his finacée
“to make sure nothing bad happens to her”
and the immediate emergency
closure of the Holland Tunnel…Oh, come
on, Doc! If this isn’t schizo what is?
And after all it took so long to nose
the rental car’s savage servility
through New Jersey for Thanksgiving at her
mother’s that by the time he arrived he
can’t possibly have been the same person
he had been when he left Brooklyn and is
that not a kind of multiple person-
ality? It took hours. And then it was
awkward. Which could describe so many things.
The gangly half-dismantled turkey splayed
on its platter. Her stepfather's lecture
on property taxes and tougher sentences.
The seven-dollar jug of Chablis which
would come up later while he held back her hair.
Every good boy deserves fudge and he tried
to be one and earn huge loamy slabs of it.
He practiced his scales on the steering wheel
as he breezed by stop sign after stop sign
toward the tunnel, stopped to search for the
exact change, then resumed rehearsal as
she, deeply soused, snored wetly beside him
smelling like something spilled on a rug. He
keyed each étude over and over as though
there would not be many more chances or
changes which I typed first by accident
but had the chance to change for which I am
thankful. But what am I doing in here.

Joel Brouwer, "The Exact Change" from And So. Copyright © 2009 by Joel Brouwer.  Reprinted by permission of Four Way Books.

Bach and the Sentry


Watching the dark my spirit rose in flood
On that most dearest Prelude of my delight.
The low-lying mist lifted its hood,
The October stars showed nobly in clear night.

When I return, and to real music-making,
And play that Prelude, how will it happen then?
Shall I feel as I felt, a sentry hardly waking,
With a dull sense of No Man's Land again?

In Homage to Gerald Finzi
By Rob Stuart

Each time I hear your Ecologue
I am transported to a forgotten time
Remembered. For we lose nothing.
Your music lifts, carries me through
Present dystopian disharmonies,
Draws me to the sweet mystery
Of soul. And beauty, as of an autumn day
Radiant before lowering clouds beckon
Another season.  For the moment I rest
In Ecologue, a present time glorious
By the tracings of your composition,
Resolved finally as life is,
In resonance held,
where you reside.

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