Oh, Absalom, Absalom,
Announced by a throng of runners.
A chariot’s spectacle.
From crown to sandals, no defect.
And your hair, your hair, weighed like revenge.
Your charm was your decoy,
Your charisma, a magnet for the young.
Kissing their feet, you
Hid your agenda and
Stole their hearts.
They made you king, realizing not
Your treachery manifested itself
But pride goes before a fall.
You chanced upon your enemy.
You caught your locks in the forest’s terebinth.
You dangled like a broken bough until
Your heart was lanced, your body beaten.
They threw you into a shallow place,
Stones, a scant pile,
To mark your grave.
Oh Absalom, Absalom!
How dangerous to sow strife,
To root bitterness,
To erect monuments to
Would God your legacy were written in water,
Not on your father’s heart.
Jo has been an English teacher for over thirty years, and poetry has always been her favorite genre to teach. In recent years, her students' success with publishing has motivated her to relinquish her writing, and the experience has been rewarding. She is one of nine children born and raised by tenant farmers in Middle Georgia, and much of her poetry reflects that family heritage.
The Myth of Talent
Would you ask a violinist “how much do you practice?”
or a ballerina about her grueling daily dance routine?
Everybody writes. The poet writes like she prays, with passion.
Athena emerged fully-grown from the head of Zeus.
She saw everything and knew everything.
To be born, the writer enters a state of curiosity,
waiting for the moment when
the poem opens up and tells her
what it wants to be about.
No thrills of discovery for the goddess.
Miles Davis said, my future
starts when I wake up every morning.
Gaby is the American translator of Henri Meschonnic’s work, a contributor to Lexington’s poetry blog (http://lexpomo.com/) and a teacher at Eastern Kentucky University. While a grad student in Comp Lit, she co-founded the University of Iowa Museum of Art Bulletin. Her publications include a photo essay in Italian Americana: Cultural and Historical Review, a book review in Poet Lore, photos in Ground Fresh Thursday, and an article on rhythm as historicity in New Literary History. Her poem "Singing in the Pool" is forthcoming in The Voices Project.
even in the brain, in the rests
broken with the pain
of not knowing your own
notes, your own voice.
It’s a cruel stranger
that encores the dementia dirge
and tricks even the soul-
ful into forgetting the name-
O, Fats, O, Etta--
Ain’t That A Shame and
Fool That I Am got switched at the synapse
and all that jumbles the soul
clogged up and stopped singing
the self. Still,
mellow Fats, when those cats
sang you gone with Katrina,
you knew to insist that
behind those silent lips, you’re still
blues-ing and twisting.
And, Sassy Etta,
when last winter caught you
rolling death, tell me you remembered,
somewhere in your blues-infused brain
to cat-call all of us,
then belt out At Last again.
This poem was previously published in New York Dreaming.
Sage Graduate Fellow of Cornell University (MFA) and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published eleven collections of poetry-including True, False, None of the Above (Poiema Poetry Series and Illumination Book Award medalist); Local News from Someplace Else; Wives' Tales; Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize); andPerpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award)-the short story collection What She Was Saying(Fomite Press), and over 500 stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. Co-editor ofCommon Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (Penn State Press), she also has published four children's books: A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry, Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems ; A Man Named Branch: The True Story of Baseball's Great Experiment (middle grade biography); and Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems + Insider Exercises. For more information, please see www.marjoriemaddox.com
Jazz Fantasy of My Puberty*
Reality has always been too small for the human
imagination. We're always trying to transcend.
– Brenda Laurel
She leans against the wall of a jazz club,
strikes a pose under the spotlight of a streetlamp,
blows ovals of smoke like lassos to rope-in
all lust within sight of the Seine.
She wears a beret like those Beats
with their Van Dykes and goatees
seen through arches in the club’s caveau
as they dig Le Jazz Hot,
ostinato riffs of trumpet and clarinet,
jazzmen as silhouettes through another arch,
wide vibratos, unblushing roll of Lonesome Railroad Blues,
a trombone’s slide in a priapic rise to Mighty Lak A Rose.
Her eyes flash with every blast of brass.
She sways, in the groove.
She begins to dance.
She swoons, a cobra entranced
when I transcend the band
as I solo, when I play
*Inspired by the album cover and music of Le Jazz Hot, an LP recorded in 1957 by The Left Bank Bearcats, a group of American musicians who masqueraded as a French jazz band.
Jack Grady is a founding member of the Irish-based Ox Mountain Poets. His poetry has appeared online or in print in many literary journals and anthologies, including such publications as Crannóg; Live Encounters; The Galway Review; And Agamemnon Dead: An Anthology of Early Twenty-First Century Irish Poetry; North West Words; The Worcester Review; Poet Lore; A New Ulster, Mauvaise Graine; Algebra of Owls; The Irish Literary Times; Skylight 47, and others. He was the first Irish poet invited to read at the annual international poetry festival in Marrakesh, Morocco, where he appeared at its third edition, in April 2016.
The Pianist and The Poet
Seymour Bernstein barely blinks
when he talks, his eyes as at ease
in the light of the world as his hands,
poised over the keys when he asks
us to mark how the note hovers
in air after it’s struck so that even
its final hush finds accord. He touches
his student’s arm with a gentle continuum,
in perfect concordance, urges her heart
closer to Bach, reminds her to listen,
to breathe, like my poet friend Amy
says in a poem: “Listen. The high kiss
of finch grabs a thread of air.”
This is a transport, rapid as half of a breath
“as if ears were satellite dishes on stems”.
She teaches too and waits as long as it takes
for her students to hear. She knows
what that means, how it helps to blend
the word and the sound of the word
so the ear and the brain work together.
“These tiniest bones hear us think.”
Yes, listen to the hush that carries the sound.
Editor's note: This poem was inspired by Ethan Hawke’s documentary about Seymour Bernstein, Seymour—An Introduction, and Amy Young’s poem “Ossicles.” Scroll below to read Amy's poem.
The Ekphrastic Review was absolutely delighted to hear from Amy Young, who generously agreed to share her poem, too, as well as from Seymour Bernstein, the subject of Judith Bowles' poem and the documentary movie by Ethan Hawke.
Judith Bowles lives, writes and gardens in Washington D. C. She has an MFA from the American University in short fiction and taught creative writing there. Two of her stories were selected for the Pen Syndicated Fiction Project. Her poems have been published in The Delmarva Review, The Innisfree Journal of Poetry, and Gargoyle. Her book, The Gatherer, was published by WordTech Communication’s Turning Point in November of 2014.
at the marriage supper
A choral progression
Pachelbel’s Canon in D
polyphony of angelic voices
singing the same psalm--
Holy, Holy, Holy
—each entering in sequence
with the Lord God Almighty
Who’s singing too
in basso continuo,
His Holy Spirit repeating
the same two-bar line--
Worthy is the Lamb
Who was slain.
And the everlasting trees
by the riverbank sway
to His aeolian wind, Ruach,
waving the branches
to the Canon—to the written word
to the canon—to the music in D,
the beautiful sound of creation.
Adam must have heard
somethng like that symphony
in his heart when God formed
his wife. And the man said,
Bone of my bone,
flesh of my flesh.
He was so empty, so incomplete
before then, but he didn’t need
a reason to believe or to feel lonely,
yet he did, even when God walked
with him in the cool of the garden.
But there’s always a snake
in the grass to uncoil
that perfect union. It tried
to constrict the innocent
lamb, swallow him as well.
But the serpent didn’t see
the mother’s hooves,
the father’s teeth.
The Lamb of God
wouldn’t lie down
except for us.
For us: the man, the woman,
all of us—the church.
No church is complete
without a lamb on its altar.
It used to be by the blood
of bulls and goats filling
the cisterns and chalices,
but now, it’s the Lamb
who will marry to the Church.
And the bridegroom said,
Bone of my bone,
flesh of my flesh.
about my sack of bones,
my pound of flesh?
Why am I so special?
Afterall, I am nothing
And before I could finish
the sentence, a voice lifted
out of the music, growing
louder in my soul, until
it shook my heart with
these words that He said
to me, they—Elohim--
said to me in sequential
But you, my love,
are my very breath.
John C. Mannone
John C. Mannone has work in Blue Fifth Review, NEJM, Intima, Amsterdam Quarterly, Peacock Journal, Gyroscope Review, Inscape Literary Journal, Baltimore Review, Pedestal, and Pirene's Fountain. He’s been awarded Weymouth writing residencies (2016, 2017) and has three poetry collections: Apocalypse (Alban Lake Publishing, July 2015), nominated for the 2017 Elgin Book Award; Disabled Monsters (The Linnet’s Wings Press, December 2015) featured at the 2016 Southern Festival of Books; and Flux Lines (Celtic Cat Publishing, Spring 2017). He’s been nominated for several Pushcart and Rhysling awards. He edits poetry for Abyss & Apex and other venues. He teaches college physics near Knoxville, TN. Visit http://jcmannone.wordpress.com
Vince Gotera is a Professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa, where he served as Editor of the North American Review. Recent poems in The American Journal of Poetry, Star*Line, Parody Poetry Journal, Altered Reality Magazine, Eunoia Review, and Inigo Online Magazine, among others. He blogs at The Man with the Blue Guitar.
In a Sentimental Mood
Thin Lip presses down.
Fatty never had a chance.
Angels dry an eye.
Sunday dreams dried up.
A cold train collects you.
Song rasp sneaks away.
Who’s a sax? Oboe?
Blue notes bend over Manhat--
An old lonely night.
Siân Killingsworth is a poet and copywriter. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in journals such as The Oakland Review, The Columbia Poetry Review, Mudfish, and Eunoia Review. She founded and ran the popular open-mic poetry reading series hosted by the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School, where she worked on the staff of Lit. She lives in Northern California.
The Piano and the Violin
Dan Raulberg had graduated from the small college in upstate New York ten years ago, moved to Manhattan, and become a famed violinist. The Times review of his third CD spoke for most critics in summarizing him as “an artist of depth, colour, and virtuosity." Raulberg made good use of the recognition. He connected with another violinist he thought a quality performer, then two other musicians to form a quartet. The group had synergy and it gained acclaim as it performed in well-known venues across the country. Raulberg continued to appear solo even as the quartet recorded several CDs that proved popular among classics' listeners. He performed with passion and great skill just as he had in his works earlier. Many of his listeners said it was beautiful that success had not spoiled him.
Recently, Raulberg made a friendly phone call to a former mentor at his alma mater. He was very interested to ask about the music department. He wanted especially to know about the department’s coming Winter Music Revue, a musical variety show that featured several of the college's music students. When his contact gave some idea of the young people expected to present-- "Many quality ones, I can tell you"-- Raulberg promised to attend. Raulberg’s mentor shared the news around the music department and soon Dave Fowler heard of it too. Dave was a sophomore violin major at the college who believed firmly he would win a slot in the Music Revue when he auditioned. The news that Raulberg would attend the Revue made the event newly important to him. Dave was proud that Raulberg was his alumni and felt it would be an honour to give a quality performance before the well-known artist. While that itself would be satisfying, Dave hoped delivering a good work at the Revue might result in something greater. He knew the violinist recently had made an example of a student performing in a concert at a college in Manhattan. In the backroom after the event, Raulberg sought the young man, who had presented a beautiful Schubert piece as part of the student program. "You have given an excellent performance and I think you have had the making of a great future artist," Raulberg was reported to have told him. Dave did not believe any such recognition from Raulberg at the Revue would mean he himself was destined for success, just a sign it was more possible than he had imagined.
Already Dave believed he was one of the better violin students in the college’s music department. He acted certain of it to be sure. He spoke emphatically of violin music as if his words and opinions on that topic deserved noticing. He appeared proud in his focused eyes and firm lips that never fully relaxed when talking with people. The idea he gave of his pride made people suppose he had achieved something to be so. His fellow music students who had heard him perform knew however he was talented. They showed it asking him about his technique or by a restrained comment after he presented a piece in rehearsal. Dave liked their praise—he never dismissed a compliment—even though he felt no reason to like most of what the students talked about otherwise.
Auditions for the revue Raulberg would attend were soon and Dave picked to audition with and present Massenet’s Meditation from Thais as his piece in the program. He thought the Massenet piece would be an excellent way to both captivate and display his skill before the visiting artist. Dave rehearsed for the audition well but not hard, feeling he would outshine the other music students as usual for a slot. Two days after the auditions, Dave stopped by the college’s music auditorium, the place where the Winter Revue would be held and where musicians for the program would rehearse, to read the list of students chosen for the event. He found the list posted on a corkboard by the stage and his name as expected. He read on, curious of who else had made the program, until he came across an unfamiliar name, Charles Fontaine. Charles was presenting Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, he read. Dave knew the students in the music department but did not recognize Charles. He thought it stranger for Charles's choice of the Hungarian Rhapsody. Few performers would present as complex a piece at a student show.
A student soprano came alongside the corkboard as Dave stared at Charles's name. Dave happened to know her so asked if she knew Charles.
“He’s a new sophomore transfer; he’s up there on the stage right now, the one in the middle with blonde, curly hair. I met him the other day. I could introduce you. He’s a very nice guy.”
"I'd be interested."
So the two went on stage and the soprano student made introductions. Dave shook hands with Charles and they chatted briefly. Charles came across as a respectful and modest guy. The fellow had a kind, polite smile that suggested he could be quite friendly if he chose. However, Charles had a quiet, half tense air as he stood by the piano on stage. He looked anxiously once at the keys. Dave had a feeling from this that Charles might not be too confident a performer. Dave had listened to several insecure students perform in his classes and had thought it always less than great. He imagined Charles had overreached in choosing to present a serious, powerful piano performance like Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Dave responded to Charles a little more kindly for apprehending this fault as they spoke on by the piano.
Dave retired to his apartment and spent the next few days practicing his Massenet for the revue. To impress Raulberg, Dave thought he must master the work perfectly. He rehearsed until he thought his performance right. But Dave could not accept the fact once he had. He supposed he had mastered the piece too easily and that he must have overestimated himself. I must do more to improve, he decided. He listened again to his performance and rendered the tempo more slowly. He stressed the emotion in his piece in careful, sad passes with his bow; he mastered the difficult moves after much longer than most musicians would have attempted. He rendered the piece smoothly at last. Dave believed no other student in the revue would attempt to rehearse or succeed as well with their pieces. He liked this thought and it made him more confident Raulberg might notice him.
When he finished practicing, Dave had his friend Johnny McAdams over to his apartment. Johnny was a voice student in the music department and an upbeat, cheerful guy. He was very thin for a tenor and very freckled; he looked almost juvenile for it. He did not resemble a man who would sing in opera and musicals for a living. But Dave never made Johnny conscious of it since he seemed to like his violin performance more than anyone else. When they had gathered that night, the two talked about the revue where they both would perform. During the program, Johnny was to sing “On the Street Where You Live” from the movie My Fair Lady.
“I wish I was prepared as you seem to be,” Johnny said, after hearing Dave talk about how he had practiced. “I guess I’m not as dedicated to rehearsal.”
The comment made Dave a little smug but he tried to downplay his effort so his friend would not feel bad. “I don't practice as much as you make out.”
"You work hard enough though." Johnny went on to mention some people he had heard rehearsing for the revue at the auditorium. “They played pretty nice.”
“Oh, like who?”
“Well that ensemble, Athens Players. They’ll be doing some Mozart.”
Dave had heard the Players, a serious minded group. He thought they did a fair Mozart.
Johnny went on. “Then Steve Mittleson, he’s doing a cello work by Bach.”
Dave knew Steve was an eager performer but that many times his enthusiasm had made him deliver pieces too quickly. Steve might not do well with the slower, subtle parts in Bach's cello work. Dave felt confident he easily would stand out from him. He began to feel glad of it when Johnny added, “I also heard that new student Charles Fontaine. Now that guy can perform the piano.”
“Oh? How’s that?”
“I heard him practice. He’d left the door open in his rehearsal room. He did a beautiful Hungarian Rhapsody Number Two. Made it sound serious but not too heavy. I don’t think I’ve heard that piece played as nicely before to tell you the truth. He wavered in a few parts, but delivered well most of the time."
Dave was surprised. He said however, “Perhaps that is a good sign for him. But still you can't tell how he might perform before everyone based on one practice.”
“He sounded very good. I bet he’ll get the piece down by the time he has to perform.”
“I’d have to hear it before I decided if he was.”
“Everyone else I know who’s heard him at piano says he’s wonderful. He probably is.”
Johnny continued to other news. Dave tried to listen but continued to think about Charles. He decided Charles suddenly was a serious challenge in his bid for Raulberg's attention. It made him angry to think; for over half a year, Dave had known no one else who was as good a music student as he. Now someone from out of the blue looked like he might outshine him when he wanted recognition most.
“So,” Johnny said, breaking into Dave’s thought, “did you want to see that movie you told me about at the Cineplex? It’s playing tomorrow night. It’s supposed to be really good.”
“I’m sorry but I'll to be practicing again.”
“Oh, come on, you practice too much. You need to take it easy.”
“Sorry, I can’t. I feel uncomfortable suddenly with how I’ve rehearsed.”
Johnny shrugged his shoulders. "Fine, I'll go alone."
That night after Johnny left, Dave practiced the Meditation from Thais with new relish and continued to over the next days. As he rehearsed, he pictured Charles practicing at the piano and it gave him new determination. Dave rehearsed the Massenet until he trusted Charles could not match it for quality in his Liszt. Dave was more certain than ever now his performance would be the one to impress Raulberg.
However, Dave thought he might do more to assure a good reception. He went to Kravitz, the revue director, at the auditorium during his office hours and asked that he bump him toward the end of the event. Dave knew the last pieces of a program were often seen better just because they were the last ones heard. He felt sure Kravitz would oblige him in the request. The man was known to accommodate students as far as possible.
Kravitz did listen carefully to his request he found. Once he had put it, Dave said, “Couldn’t a good musician like me make a quality finale to the program?” Kravitz had heard him perform in other productions, so Dave assumed he had a good opinion of his talent.
Kravitz, a short, bustling man, smiled at Dave. “Many others in the revue are good musicians, too. They cannot all close the program.”
“Well, I’ve worked on my Massenet awhile and it’s a difficult one to perform. Most of the other students are doing simple, easy pieces. Someone with a more serious piece like me shouldn’t be stuck at a poor time because of it.”
Kravitz scrunched his eyebrows as he seized the schedule book from a shelf and opened it. “I don’t think you should dismiss your fellow musicians as doing so little. But I agree you are putting on a serious piece and probably have rehearsed it well. I will give you a later slot.”
“There,” Kravitz said over the revised schedule book, “you will be right before Charles Fontaine.”
Dave made a face. “You’ll have Charles later than me?”
“I'd like to try him as the last instrumental. I don't know if you've heard him perform. He is pretty good. I heard him the other day. I thought he'd be perfect to close the instrumental section. I don't think that steals any good light from you, however. You perform as you can and don't worry about him.”
Doesn’t that stink? Dave thought, walking from Kravitz's office. Charles on the tail end of my piece. Charles being favoured over me. Well, I never thought Kravitz knew how to treat a good musician right. Dave went home and practiced the Meditation from Thais again. High on his mind as he did were thoughts of outshadowing Charles, however well the pianist performed.
Two days before the revue, Dave went to book a rehearsal room at the auditorium for the time immediately before he would give his number. As he entered the auditorium lobby from outside, he heard the end of some piano music being performed. Dave passed into the auditorium and looked up toward the stage; there he saw Charles Fontaine at the piano, speaking to several students gathered around him. Dave saw the close attention in their faces even from the back of the darkened auditorium. Charles spoke to them with what seemed good spirit. His neat appearance in wool sweater and formal shirt and the deliberate gestures of his hands looked as if it pleased them all very well. When Charles cast an intelligent look at the piano keys, everyone seemed to look him with admiration and expectation.
Dave considered that all the people around the piano must have been there to hear or been drawn toward the sound as Charles performed. Maybe, he thought, they really had admired Charles’s performance, just as Johnny and Kravitz had. But this kind of admiration in their faces Dave had never seen for another music student. The possibility of this being true crashed upon Dave like a millstone. He hurried from the auditorium, his business about the rehearsal room forgotten; he wanted only to leave before he received any certain sign the students respected Charles for his performance on the piano.
Outside, walking home to his apartment, Dave thought he had been absurd. He recalled all his work to rehearse the Massenet piece and thought condescendingly of Charles talking in his easy manner to the students on the auditorium stage. I do outperform him however well he might, Dave thought. I know I do. I'll surprise those people who were admiring him at the auditorium once Revue night comes. I’ll be better than him. Yet he doubted himself once at home as he reflected on his rehearsal of the past days. Had he performed as well as he might? He took his violin and performed the Meditation from Thais, hoping to hear it come the right way. His sense that it worked eluded him, as he listened to the piece as a whole, then in parts. However, he told himself his performance must improve if he rehearsed more. He rehearsed then. He paced his delivery, weighing if he went too fast or too slow at each measure in the music. He sped and slowed his hand, then with sharper doubts than earlier slowed sections he thought he gave too fast. He was sure some musicians would say he split hairs; his changes seemed to make little difference heard individually. However, the changes seemed to bring forth a smoother production that Dave was sure would affect his listeners positively.
Dave made more changes. He emphasized some parts of the music and deemphasized others. He added stress to the middle of the Meditation where the music gains a passionate height. While he knew most performers did not put stress on the mid-section, Dave thought it would be a refreshing and interesting variation on the piece. It certainly would catch the audience’s attention, a plus when he sought the attention of the famous musician among them. So, he rehearsed the music’s middle part until it reverberated with the utmost feeling and tenderness. The result sounded dearer than he had hoped. Then he re-did the middle and re-practiced the final part in the music to have it come off more beautifully. He practiced, feeling he sharpened the emotion in the music with each pass of his bow on the violin strings. At last, he thought it the best he could do. But Dave’s suspicion that he might improve convinced him to rehearse the ending again. He lost any sense of diminishing returns to his labour. Both criticism and praise for doing it appeared irrelevant. He thought only of winning the respect he wanted.
On the revue night, Dave Fowler arrived back stage at the auditorium and went to the rehearsal rooms. He discovered one that did not have a RESERVED note on the door and closed himself inside. He had doubted his performance as he walked to the auditorium and was eager to give it some last minute adjustments. He played the piece again and listened carefully. He thought he heard some off quality in the music he had not earlier. He tried to identify the cause. He decided finally he only had imagined the music wrong when there was no real issue. Dave would not let go his doubt however. He kept trying to find something wrong. He rehearsed parts of the piece several times. Then he considered whether the problem might be his violin. That must be it, he thought. I didn't string the instrument right. I should have thought of it sooner. He adjusted the strings then played a note on each one before he proceeded to another. At the end, he had adjusted all the strings. Everyone else in the show would have wondered what was wrong if I didn’t catch this, he thought, relieved. Would they have thought I couldn't maintain my own violin? I could have forgotten about impressing anyone then.
Dave’s time to perform neared. With his violin, he went backstage and found Kravitz and some students who already had performed watching a girl present some flute music on stage. She gave a mediocre performance flattening the piece's colour and brightness as Dave felt. The flutist finished and when she had exited, Kravitz went on stage and announced Dave as the next performer. With a last pained breath, Dave, his violin and bow in hand, strode onto the stage. He stopped somewhere under the lights and faced the darkened arena of the audience. One quick thought skirted his mind for the visiting musician he had practiced to impress. But he did not dare survey the audience for him. He was expected now to perform.
As soon as he started, Dave heard something was wrong. The first notes, meant to be gracious, came in just too high a sound from his violin. He was horrified hearing it. The next few bars of music were to be passionate, suggesting a lover’s address. They came out closer to a whine. Painfully, Dave realized he must not have strung his violin properly in the rehearsal room. But he did not see what he could do about it now. He was in the midst of the music. He could not stop to check and adjust his instrument without ruining the continuity of the performance. So he continued. He came to the first emotionally tender part of the music, a scene meant to sound gentle and peaceful. As if to make up for the poor introduction, Dave tried to put emphasis in the lulling air of this section of the music. He found he missed capturing any of it. He delivered with too many vigorous thrusts of the bow. He slowed hoping to create some of the gentle sound this section of the music had, but a harder, less than tender emotion came from the violin. He proceeded to a rise in the music, where he planned to stress the elevated themes of the piece. He overdid the emotion. The overemphasis sounded like a break with the earlier sections of the music, rather than the progression he meant. He felt how he had failed once he performed this section, but ran on to the rest.
A moment of consideration or meditation was to enter the music. Dave came to it with every thought to present it delicately. He performed and had a feeling he managed in a way the audience must dislike. Dave came to another tender part of the music and took unusual pains to render it well. He weighed the sound of the section as he performed. However, his scrutiny interfered with his keeping an even tempo so that he had to hurry after a couple of chords as if unsure when to deliver them. He gave this part of the music an intense air as he wished but he felt it strove to seem so, as if he seemed intense rather than was. He worked to present the end of this section in its true, warm character and believed, despite some doubts, he did it.
Dave reached the final, very lofty part of the music. He caught onto a faint, straining air as he began it. He believed that the sound, reminiscent of the first whine in his performance, could ruin the music’s end, the thing he dreaded more than anything. With tortured pulls of the bow he hardly imagined would work, he managed to get the proper sound from the violin. He ended the Meditation with a controlled neatness, fitting to the piece but felt hollow to him after the great strain and agony of his presentation.
Dave looked quietly into the darkened auditorium when he had done. The audience applauded as for the flutist before him. He heard no jeers or boos but no calls of acclaim that greeted a quality performance. He gave a polite bow to the darkness and walked off stage with as cool and normal a gait as possible. Yet he knew the music had failed and that everyone else must have recognized it.
Back stage, Dave’s friend Johnny gave him a friendly smile but Dave could see the sadness in his eyes. Dave walked off without saying a word. He sank on a crate near the stage where soon he went unnoticed. The stagehands moved past Dave as they rolled the piano onto the stage for Charles’s performance. How did I go as far wrong as I did tonight?, Dave thought his head bowed over the floor. And how did I think to re-string the violin at the last minute? His eyes watered as he thought of his errors.
Dave halted in his self-criticism as he heard Charles Fontaine announced and received on stage. He watched Charles bow to the audience in a neat, considerate way. In his sharp, black suit, he showed little of the self-consciousness Dave earlier assumed he had. Charles took his seat at the piano; then brought his thin boned hands to the keys and began. Charles’s opening to the Rhapsody was pronounced and emphatic. Dave heard how well Charles controlled his timing as if giving reverence to the opening. Dave knew he had not presented the start of the Massenet as neatly nor as cleanly as Charles did his work’s. The pianist tapped out the first few measures after the introduction as if considering his way to proceed, much as the music seemed to consider its own. Dave sensed the restraint needed to evenly maintain this neat, serious presentation. Charles performed however as if thought of restraint was nothing for him; his real concern rather to outline the piece’s progress. When he came to the first, excited digression in the work, he fled into the thing, making it seem flighty and free of forethought. Dave considered the actual difficulty of delivering this part of the music and thought Charles might make a mistake if he was moved and performed too quickly. However, Charles drew up to the digression’s end neatly, emphasizing how it broke at its end. The tempo of the music quickened, its tone lightened; the piece gained a dance-like element. Charles made it brisk, bright, and happy. The sound was intoxicating and Dave imagined again Charles might lose his even performance if he were not careful. But Charles’s quick fingering made this section of the music sound a comfortable, easy thing to perform. The pianist transitioned into a new digression that he made flicker and shake in the piano keys. Charles raced the music, and it came forward natural and fun. He performed at just the right tempo, a difficult feat for those presenting spirited piano music.
The phrase from the rhapsody’s beginning returned, breaking and slowing as the music grew more serious. Charles delivered it with dark forcefulness while seeming to reflect on its sombre qualities in his pauses. In no sense, however, did Charles belabour or overstretch his presentation. He gave his honest effort and did not try to outdo himself, Dave believed.
Charles rendered briskly and colourfully the next measures of the work. His presentation sounded a happy thing to give, energetic and bright. He ended this section with a gentle tap of his hand on the keys. The rhapsody became heavier and more broken then. The music arrived in halts, each more depressed in spirit than the last. Charles channeled the refrain from the introduction, giving a dark emphasis to its delivery as if sympathetic to the slowing music. He delivered with great care, adding by every keystroke subtly to the somber effect of this part of the music. He never drew attention to his crafting hand the whole while, Dave felt.
Charles ended the first half of the music by slipping gently into the pause at the work’s centre. The music re-started in a self-serious phrase with a strong, clear, repeated lead chord; this chord seemed to ride beautifully through the rolling current of this section of the work. Charles timed the chord to create unusual moments of excitement whenever it recurred. Dave saw the excitement was designed for in the composition but that Charles emphasized it with attractive effect. His timing came as if by a special intuition. Dave knew he had lacked this intuition delivering his broken, tortured Massenet a few minutes earlier. What made this realization more painful though was that Charles’s intuition seemed spontaneous rather than the product of any special attention to his work. It recalled Johnny’s praise of Charles in rehearsal.
The music quickened, the strong leading chord in the music became louder, taking on a new mischievous character. Charles presented exciting contrasts in the music without losing any time with its ever-quickening undercurrent. Fluidly he switched emphasis between them. The piece seemed to brighten as he alternated tones.
Completing this first part of the second half, Charles delivered several runs up and down the piano keys that alternated in character from light to warbling. He made the parallel runs come neat and with a happy, quick spirit. His presentation seemed easy and no labor at all. It suggested that by enjoying the music, he delivered it correctly, a much different philosophy than Dave had performing his piece. Once he delivered the runs, Charles came to a playful, emphatic ascent in the music, broken by the strong lead chord of earlier. He rendered the ascent in a childlike air, making it seem that the further he went on, the more pleasant the music would sound. His hands and the piano seemed to cooperate in producing the playful effect. It became interesting in itself to think how well Charles orchestrated his performance.
Charles’s skill was not lost to his fellow performers backstage. Dave turned to them and discovered their eyes glowing on Charles. Johnny’s eyes shone, a thing Dave never saw. Kravitz smiled clearly proud. Their approval for Charles weighed on Dave as if insisting he also admire the pianist. But Dave would not after all his work to outperform him. As he saw growing happiness in the faces around him, Dave struggled not to sulk. Charles delivered a new delicate ascent in the music. He rendered the steps to it light and free of affectation as earlier. Dave had trouble accepting the extent of Charles’s grace in execution, as he considered the tribulations of his own violin work. However, he had to admit Charles delivered his piece with skill and flare.
Charles reached the famous finale to the Liszt. He presented its vigorous, dense complexity in the fullest way, all the pieces assembling, it seemed, in marvelous order. His hands moved nearly automatically as if in perfect tune with the piece. Charles's ending, Dave saw, was fabulous and outstandingly coordinated. It has all the qualities I should have had in mine, he thought. There he is showing them off. In all this, Dave caught Charles to make no sign of pride. The young man seemed interested simply to present a good performance.
Charles ended, and the auditorium and backstage burst with applause. The people's enthusiastic clapping and calls burnt Dave without mercy. He hated the sound. Johnny, noting his friend did not clap as the rest, smiled and said, “Hey Dave, you clap too. Don’t you think Charles was great?”
Dave picked up his drooping head and stared at Charles on the stage. In the unanimous approval for Charles’s act, he was frightened to seem as if he disagreed with everyone else’s feeling. But he could not bring himself to clap even for form. As Charles came off stage to warm handshakes, musicians pushed forward to greet him, stinging Dave’s pride anew.
Maybe I should not stay for the rest of the performance, he thought, seeing Charles walk from the backstage. I’ve ruined my chance to impress anyone. If Raulberg liked anyone who has performed so far, he would have Charles. I don't have to wait for any good word to come my way. Then Dave considered Johnny. His friend stood by the side of the stage watching the stagehands set up the microphone for the coming vocal performances. Johnny's eyes had lit with anticipation. Suddenly Dave felt some regret over his anger. I can stay to hear a friend, he thought. I can’t leave and seem disinterested when I like and respect him. He is one of my better friends. So, Dave crushed down his ill feeling over Charles and waited.
He listened politely to the first vocalist, then applauded as Johnny went on stage and took his stand before the microphone. His friend delivered his song’s first few lines joyfully. His strong singing had a contagious energy for Dave after his low spirits of earlier. He listened eagerly. When Johnny did not show the humour of the first few lines as well as he could have, Dave did not feel it lessened from the song. Johnny's happiness made up for it, giving colour to the performance.
Johnny went on to sing more slowly and seriously as he suggested his love interest.
I have often walked down this street before
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before
In his excited tone, Johnny made clear the love implied by the lines. He sounded perhaps too serious, but someone who did not understand the lyrics would have heard what he felt. Dave listened further. He sensed Johnny’s control and suggestion as he sang of the lilacs and the lark and even in his question about enchantment. The command in his voice recalled Charles at his piano. As he came to the next lines, this control undercut some of the emotion he put in the lyrics. He compressed and quieted a part, usually delivered with warmth, in order it seemed to keep it from overextending. Dave appreciated Johnny’s choice to as he heard the bit’s subdued tones of love.
Johnny’s voice became wonderfully rounded when he sang of his “towering feeling." The phrase seemed to complete the music's ascent in that part. Then his voice came soft and serious in the falling line after:
Just to know somehow you are near
He pronounced the words as if to let the audience feel and love them. Only a critic or musician might have noted he had altered the tempo too quickly between the lines but no one else. The lines taken singly sounded very fine.
Johnny arrived at the song’s finale. His voice went high and hit the swelling mood right. His delivery had energy and excitement, if too much of it. But Dave applauded when his friend had finished. After failing in his own performance, Dave relished recognizing his friend’s.
After his friend, two other performers sang, more or less decently, but Dave did not judge them. He was too quiet and inward turned now as the night drew on to heed too well their careful voices, the flow of their music. After the last performer finished to applause, the lights in the auditorium went on and the audience moved to exit, talking eagerly. The end of the event set the people backstage moving as well. Musicians fetched their instruments and met their friends who came backstage to congratulate them. From the midst of the bustle, Johnny, his face all happiness, came to Dave, who was by himself near the empty stage.
“I just talked to Charles,” Johnny said. “He’s asked us to join him at Collin’s Pub. There’s a rumour Dan Raulberg might go to Collin’s for a drink. We might catch him with any luck.”
Dave looked at Johnny. He remembered he had not told Johnny his great ambition for that night nor his ill feeling toward Charles who had outshone him. Dave thought not to offend Johnny by explaining it now.
“No, you go with Charles and have a good time for me.” Dave listened to his own words and heard in them his first serious respect for Charles.
Norbert Kovacs is a short story writer who lives in Hartford, Connecticut. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Squawk Back, Corvus Review, New Pop Lit, Ekphrastic, Down in the Dirt, and Scarlet Leaf Review.
ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE (from "My Fair Lady")
Words by ALAN JAY LERNER
Music by FREDERICK LOEWE
Copyright © 1956 (Renewed) CHAPPELL & CO., INC.
All Rights Reserved
Used By Permission of ALFRED MUSIC
György Ligeti, Lontano
There is micropolyphony
a fractalic geometry
of canons in canons
faraway echoes of Bach
on the horizon
massive clouds of Mahler
(all the right notes
but not necessarily
in the right order)
e lon gat ed
and I wonder
what it all adds up to
until I look up
and see my daughter
in the eye of the storm
Jonathan Taylor is an author, lecturer and critic from the UK. His books include the novel Melissa (Salt, 2015), and the poetry collection Musicolepsy (Shoestring, 2013). He is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester in the UK. He lives in Leicestershire with his wife, the poet Maria Taylor, and their twin daughters, Miranda and Rosalind. His website is www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk.
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