Listen Now

starry-night

Itzhak Perlman was riding shotgun when the October moon slid out onto the horizon. The soloist’s strokes teased from the slimmest strings the opening notes of Beethoven’s violin concerto.  Other players followed and a rumble rose from deep in the bouts of cello and bass, swelling to a roar and thundering through my ribs, pressing out the tears.  The stoplight was seconds from green so I pressed back.  It took some effort.  It took my breath.

The moon lay herself down in a hammock of treetops and followed us with her sleepy gaze.

Across town, a young writer of mysteries saw her too.  What echoed across the dusk to his ears was Don McLean’s “Vincent,” at least the opening verse.  His song reached in through the passenger side window and wound around the Berlin Philharmonic.  I pulled into a jammed parking lot.  They grabbed their instruments by the neck and careened off together, streaking light across the purple sky.

Continue reading “Listen Now”

Advertisements

Echo Location

She scrapes bow across strings whose low moan rises to a shriek.  Her elbow a piston, it turns the wrist in a blurred ellipse that frees a cry, a frenzy.  Two boys appear from behind the stage, leaping sideways across the brush that separates this place from the garden plots where an old woman in a headscarf shambles between rows watering broad petals of cabbage.  One of the children waves a stick like a flag.  His face is a wide grin that says, see me, see me.

Another boy in a man’s body perches on the edge of a chair on this portable stage.  Shaggy hair falls across his forehead as he leans into the music.  He is from Ireland and lives in Portland where he has his pick of women.  He does to the accordion what Kobe Bryant does to a ball.  We call this thing “playing,” this version of play unlike anything the rest of us will ever experience.

Bent at the waist ever so slightly, he gazes far off towards what must be the west where a weary August sun peels back the day’s skin and exposes the pink, swollen flesh of dusk.  The grown boy’s fingers are dervishes in harmonious riot, balletic and blind, somehow whirling an unbroken ensemble piece on that tiny stage of keys.  I look where he is looking — in the direction at least because what he sees is all his own.  I want to imagine his eyes fixed on a montage of hills, rain, soil-scarred hands lifting open a latch and reaching for him.  Just as likely, behind his eyes growls a gauntlet of fractured traffic between the airport and the next gig.  Or a dim wash of notes.  When I look that way, I see only the deep outline of trees against a sky now a garnet throb.

Then the breath, the snared half-second of surprise when bow and key and string and drum, all stop —

it’s only a pulse of the heart yet it stretches, stretches like the still air across embouchure, its reverberation through a valley of brass.  It stretches like a quantum measure that is neither real nor measurable.  Swelling up into that pause (which may be the end of all history and also may not contain a single new beginning) surges the cry of cicadas thick in the shadowed branches.  Through the crack too flaps the leather wing of one bat dipping for a moth then careening off, this also in the direction our accordion boy looks but doesn’t see.  Not what I see see anyway, and certainly not what the bat sees, though his vision may be closer to that of his chiropteran brother, a sightless echoing that delineates a terrain through sound, through a chorus of shape and motion.  Maybe he draws a whole universe like this, one round, rapid beat after another firing across a field of night.


 

Drink Loose the Noise

What young self didn’t know was that cool is a lid that screws down tight on the swelling delight of yes.  From the edge of her ancient eye, older self notices women in the dark corners of the bar bouncing in their seats.  Girls titter near a post trying not to sway — girls who are surely women but seem so far from their fullness.

The dude in an oversized plaid suit and orange ponytail hollers into a microphone while the bassist ducks his eyes under his fedora and yanks on steel strings.  Two spaghetti-armed boys blow brass right through the back wall.

Older self stands and strips off her sweater.  She steps toward the unnamed sister, the one in a cherry red tank top and spiked gray hair. She touches her arm and draws her onto the space in the center of the room.  The worn Persian rug there is a far cry from a welcome mat, but carpet is no great challenge.  Years earlier, she sent her young selves scurrying off to road-test every surface. Concrete, rooftop, mountaintop, pier.  Boardroom, waiting room, snowfall, bed.  Every floor is a dance floor when it’s time to dance.

It’s always time to dance.

She pops her hip and snaps her hand, beckoning to the one across the room who’s been having trouble sitting still.  They are three now.  Soon they are five.  Soon nine.

Low ceilings press in on the battered cafe.  Amateur pencil sketches hang crooked the walls. Light shifts and a gleam slices across the bowl of the saxophone.  Soon it’s a glittering ballroom.  Soon the pulse of the Cotton Club on a Saturday night.

The wall of dudes collectively holds confines itself to straight faces and non-committal postures until one man, pushing 70 easy, steps into and sheds 10 years. The young women form a ring of cool, turning their taut backs out for protection.  The rest shimmy and grin knowing there is no outside and no in.  Guarding one’s soft parts is a survival skill for certain,  but the older ones have learned the taxonomy of danger.  They can differentiate battlefield from playground now.  It wasn’t always so clear.

Here, the belly is free to roll towards the snare’s smash and crack.  That’s lightning for sure, but older self unfurls anyway inside the grounded body of her scars.  She twists the lid loose and drinks the song’s bright rain.  She is growing older still.  Time is running out, so she runs out into it.  She fills her bones until they spill over with dance.


 

Beat Through

Unlike the other members of the band who splice the set together with self-deprecating anecdotes, the dude on piano and bodhran is a potty white-haired fellow who never speaks or cracks a joke. I have him pegged as the invisible base that holds up on 4/4 solid legs the tone and flourish that the fiddlers and singers — the real artists — splash across score.

The last song swells to its finish, the crowd cheers, the other musicians walk off. They leave him there lost in something as he messes with his drum. He looks up and glances around like he just noticed everyone else is gone. After a few confused and awkward seconds, he starts to tap a stick against the skin of the drum. It takes a few seconds for the audience to realize that something entirely new is happening.

The next 6 minutes are this with 6 years of mastery added:

 

The 2015 Martin O’Neill plays on stage alone, handling the drum with such precision that he’s making a melody from it. It’s skittering over scales, almost singing on top of its own rip-cracking beat. Then it shushes down, down before curving around what feels like a moan.

My heart is galloping but can’t keep up.

The beat topples all my assumptions.

A little skin stretched over a frame, balanced on one knee and worked with two expert hands, somehow produces how many thousand tones?

It’s humbling to find out yet again what a poor guide my judgment can be,  how very little I know about anything at all.

It’s exhilarating to let this new flavor fill my blood, to know how much more is waiting to split wide my husk of certainty.

 

Dance Myself to Sleep

The remarkable sifter and curator, DMF, over at SyntheticZero posted a comment to Everything is Music with a link to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon playing Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes.

On the eve of an unwelcome anniversary and bracing for another night fighting off the devils that eat sleep, here I am in bed now, singing and dancing — yes, dancing alone in bed! — with the warmest thrill from smile to toes.

Now this word from Ernie & Bert:

Thank you for the most buoyant lullaby a girl could hope for, DMF. (And thank you, lambies.)


 

 

Everything is Music

He points to Sting and Bob Marley,
his eyes hopscotching sideways
over walls of worn bright album covers
all the way to the ceiling, lighting
up for the first time
as salsa music and hissing milk
steam the room and warp
corners that squeeze
us into the proximity
of firsts
and nexts. Shots
in hot mugs clank against laughing teeth.
He slides forward in his seat
back again. When India Arie
escorted Stevie Wonder to the stage
he tells me, she kissed him on the cheek.  Continue reading “Everything is Music”

Every Glove

Diana with Dog

Each time I think I’ve made contact
sleep ducks away. I stumble
back to night,
dazed. Bedstand, light
Rise Up Singing, 1992 edition
my name a blue wave
from an eager hand
across an arena packed
with years. The water
stained pages crack open
to Men, a section all its own:
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
and Hard Lovin’ Loser
and the one I tucked against me as His
pocketful of mumbles
such are promises. I sing
as I would for my restless son, sway
like the heavy bag
matching its pace, this rhythm I know
by heart. When I left
my home and my family
I was no more than a boy, now
I lay wide the unwrapped
knuckle, throat
bare as palms
I swing
to meet the solid
object I thought
on loan from some
other, and fall
through to a core
so supple and familiar
it is certainly my own and
it will certainly
burst. Momentum
splits a seam, tears
off the skin,
and as with all things
through
is the only way
out. Where I land, stars
spill across sky
in this clearing
stands a boxer and a fighter
by her trade
and she carries the reminders
of every glove that laid her down
or cut her til she cries out
all the anger and the shame
I am leaving I am leaving
and the fighter
rises
up
here, singing
her own name