Broken Music

Every turn I took in the city
pressed me deeper into the warren

of what I hadn’t said, the words
thickening, constricting like a throat

as I moved through the streets,
oblivious to traffic and high walls,

the rain gutters’ crooked mouths
staining the pavement, human faces

mooning past me, indifferent,
eclipsing my silence

with their phones, their apparitions
floating—where?—and everyone,

everyone talking to the air.
Until around a new corner

on a narrow street I’d never seen
a piano began to play from above

a window-muffled music
at odds with itself, the rush of notes

splintering like glass across a floor
then picked back up, piece

by piece—first one hand sorting
along the keys, then the other

joining, out of step, irreconcilable,
unpunctuated by frustration,

or shame, but stung with the urgency
to make what couldn’t yet

be made. How could anyone learn
their way out of such blunder,

how could any song be gathered
from those shards grating

like something lodged in a shoe.                
My ear cocked into the air,

I thought of floating up, balloon-like,
to look. I felt cartoonish,

a marvel of the last century’s
animation already out of date.

I could have gone on like that,
listening, loosening into the song,

but then the piano stopped.
My ears filled with waiting—

car horns and chatter, the wheeze
of a stopping bus, the city going

about its filthy exclamations,
its abandon. The window

darkened as the player shut
the light over the sheet music,

and it reflected another window
across the street that in turn

reflected a bit of sky, a plane’s
bright sideways thought

trolling across the pane 
music once broke through—

delirious and awful and unabashed,
and so unlike what I’d wanted to say

swollen now, a contrail
coming extravagantly undone,       

or a balloon full of glass.

Related Poems

Water Music

The words are a beautiful music.
The words bounce like in water.

Water music,
loud in the clearing

off the boats,
birds, leaves.

They look for a place
to sit and eat—

no meaning,
no point.

City Visions


                                           I.

As the blind Milton’s memory of light,
The deaf Beethoven’s phantasy of tone,
Wrought joys for them surpassing all things known
In our restricted sphere of sound and sight,—
So while the glaring streets of brick and stone
Vex with heat, noise, and dust from morn till night,
I will give rein to Fancy, taking flight
From dismal now and here, and dwell alone
With new-enfranchised senses. All day long,
Think ye ’t is I, who sit ’twixt darkened walls,
While ye chase beauty over land and sea?
Uplift on wings of some rare poet’s song,
Where the wide billow laughs and leaps and falls,
I soar cloud-high, free as the winds are free.

                                           II.

Who grasps the substance? who ’mid shadows strays?
He who within some dark-bright wood reclines,
’Twixt sleep and waking, where the needled pines
Have cushioned all his couch with soft brown sprays?
He notes not how the living water shines,
Trembling along the cliff, a flickering haze,
Brimming a wine-bright pool, nor lifts his gaze
To read the ancient wonders and the signs.
Does he possess the actual, or do I,
Who paint on air more than his sense receives,
The glittering pine-tufts with closed eyes behold,
Breathe the strong resinous perfume, see the sky
Quiver like azure flame between the leaves,
And open unseen gates with key of gold?
 

Piano

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;   
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see   
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings   
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.   
   
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong   
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside   
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.   
   
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour   
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour 
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast   
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.