I have carried mother’s tattered
Schubert sonatas, impromptus,
fantasias back and forth
to piano lessons. Bought
before I was born, binding
held by tape, its cover
and pages leave paper crumbs
on walkways, in cars, on pianos.
For months, I have struggled
with the B flat major Sonata,
composed two months before
his young death; its broad
reaches exceed mine, as I recall
how mother’s long fingers
handled them with ease.
Here, my teacher says, skip
to the Andante movement –
it’s astounding, and you can do it.
He shows me how it is played:
the left hand, mano sinistra,
crossing over the right to touch
the upper octave ever so lightly,
a sound you can barely hear
but feel that you have heard it.
As he plays, I hear mother
fifty years ago at her piano,
while in the next room,
I read, solved math problems,
daydreamed my future;
mother giving voice
to Schubert’s sense of death,
me absorbing both of them,
but barely so, not knowing it.
I rush home to her piano, now mine,
so we can play Schubert,
mourn him a little,
the two of us, together.
SONNET FOR THE DEAD
Strange how they return to play
leading roles in dreams, or pass through a room
in daylight, look unchanged, and pause to say,
as they did before: It’s not as bad as you think.
As though they cannot quite let go of you, or the life
where nothing is easy, except death. As though
the new state is too ethereally flat and plain,
lacking the hard edges of conflict, choice.
Or do we have it all wrong? Perhaps they drift, cirrus-
like and give us not a glance or thought, have blotted out
those of us still wrapped in skin, who check the time.
Have they cut us loose? – to replay their voices like favorite
sonatas, as we try to hold them in relationships with a name,
that are bound by blood, as though the blood still flowed.
More like a moon than earth,
Stark limestone landscape,
Glacier gouged and scraped.
A portal tomb holds balance,
As it has for six thousand years,
Over bones of a people who did not know
They were the early act of an Irish saga;
Or that cutting all the trees would erode
The soil that sustained them, down
To this slippery rock where only tough
Wildflowers survive in the fissures; or
How differing visions of God would blight
This island forever. We tiptoe gingerly.
IN ROME WITH JOHN KEATS
In the small room where you died,
I stand at the end of a narrow bed,
as perhaps you did on better days,
stare out the window at Bernini’s boat
still sinking on the Piazza di Spagna.
And had you not been so weak,
his marble boat, like the Elgin Marbles,
might have sparked another ode or sonnet
on mortality – a new metaphor
for the life slowly leaving you.
In those last days, to which poem
did you turn for comfort?
I would guess the Nightingale –
your darkling singing to you
in full throated summer ecstasy
out of the embalming dark, in high
requiem for a coming February death.
Or could it be the urn? – with lovers
on the brink, like you and Fanny,
bliss always out of reach.
Nothing is left of your time here
but Severn’s death-bed portrait –
tendrils of hair damp on your forehead,
lids shut, candles throwing shadows
on your face, still perfect at the end.
Though they burned all you touched,
in a bonfire below, you linger here listening
for footsteps on the stairs, horses on the square,
mandolin players on the Spanish steps,
the poem in the blood rising in your throat.