blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 9  No. 1
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Scale Practice

UT (Dominus)
Now, you cannot even remember
what a white thick moon I was, father,
when you threw me onto your shoulders
to plant me above your head.
The Mass, the song, the ivory simplicity
of sharing a hymnbook, your finger
tracing the stanza for me, the God-honest
arpeggio of it all, tapping our feet,
eating communion because we were hungry.
How much clearer we heard then.

He didn’t start a fire that morning,
and I ran my hands under warm water
to loosen the blood. All I knew then
were whole notes on a C scale,
I pushed thumb index middle—under—
thumb index middle ring pinky
filling the whole house with four-second o’s
so simple in the cold morning.
He came up, then, to make breakfast
and wrapped something white around
me, rubbed my hands, and wondered
at the new blue veins. 

Gershwin now, filling the living room
with his crazy little tangles of blue
yarn, variations on the hungry speed
of light, no single meter. My father
lying glassy-eyed on the couch,
his arm over his eyes, silent between
the songs. We like that—the pause
in the room. When I could have said
so much at 528 hertz, when I wanted
to ask if he’d followed the pathways
of Gershwin’s theme. He cannot hear the bones
coming through my fingers now,
he will not look over and say
good god, how thin you’re getting.
Let us break bread now and sing. 

After my Bartók concert—two beers,
and the man opened like an aria.
He’s talking oscillators and hairsprings,
the genius of Peter Henlein,
a whole vocabulary of time
history, so goddamned glad
that somebody’s changing it up
a little bit after the predictable
heartbeat of the clocks he’s built.
I nod—yes, this rhythm—
and suddenly his whole face is red,
and seeing him clench his fists,
I show him my jawbone, let him
punch me in his triple meter.
The escapement, he says, controls
the measured release of energy.
Otherwise the hands would simply spin. 

Whole sonatas now in the half hours of hunger,
Beethoven’s same sentence of violence,
punctuated, written in the deaf
morning, then again at two and three.
And in his Largo, Apassionato
forgetting the stupidity of the body,
the cold house, the white sheet,
the fingers, fists, hands.
Listening like that composer,
head bent just above the keys,
we learn everything we need to know
about deafness, that graceful disappearance
of taste and touch,
the decrescendo of our bodies. 

After the funeral, it’s simple.
He left the white sheet in a square
on the couch. With Rachmaninoff
muscled in the memory
of my fingers, I unfold it,
billow it out across the room
and overtop the black monster in the living
room, our old plagal cadence of whoosh,
fall. Be silent, I say. He is sleeping.  end

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