Poetry

Poems: ‘A Late Quartet of Beethoven’ n ‘The Music Teacher’

By: Carl Parsons

A Late Quartet of Beethoven
Old men were playing a late quartet of Beethoven
and resonant wood throbbed in ancient hands
and skeletal fingers rubbed the music’s body
like a lover like a magician of death
and bones it seemed danced on strings 5
or fretted upon a harmonium of strings.
And the air moved
and the curtains moved
and the flowers in the crystal vase moved
in the wind of their music. 10

Here sagging jowls tensed over violin and viola
here a speckled hand stroked the cello’s neck
here eyes washed almost out with age
began to glisten with sound
began to peer past the sounding box 15
into a cell without sound.

Old men were playing a late quartet of Beethoven
and resonant wood dissolved in dying hands
and ghostly fingers found the music’s soul
and love like a lover like a magician of life 20
leaped from strings and wood and flesh
and peered past the host of rushing notes
like the legions of souls to judgment come
and saw four fathers in harmony bound.
And the air about them moved 25
and the curtains around them moved
and the flowers in the crystal vase bloomed
in the breath of their music.

###

The Music Teacher
Visits an Appalachian School,
1950s

Once a month she came to our school,
put her autoharp in her lap
as she sat on a stool
and strummed in measured strokes
while we sang off-key but entranced, 5
“Pop Goes the Weasel,”
even though some sang
“Don’t be out with measles!”

She taught us too to tap in time
with wooden sticks a march so fine 10
that we paraded by our chairs
where before we’d bent,
now tap-tapping as we went.

Her visits were like the sun
that found our cold classroom 15
on long January afternoons.
Even the fun of cartoons in the lunch hall
was not better than her songs.

We marched by our goulashes and our gloves,
heaped beside the humming furnace, 20
where the melting ice fell to the floor,
then by our coats hanging in the cloak room
by the bulletin board that boasted of our learning,
by the Presidents silhouetted on the wall,
and back to our chairs again— 25
all tap-tapping with our feet and sticks
and one drum-drumming, the lucky one,
who beat the only drum,
‘til the song at last was done.

And if we were good, 30
before she left she would
sing one of the old songs,
songs she learned in the mountains, she said,
like “Black is the Color” or “Lord Randall, My Son.”
All for our other education, she said. 35
Then her fingers would press upon the harp
like tiny ivory hammers striking,
and she’d strum-strum rich chords of sound,
far beyond our imagining.
And her voice rose-rising through her memories, 40
wavering-quavering as the first words she sang,
then soar-soaring like a small bright bird
above her harp’s steel harmonies.

Each time our teacher led the applause,
which she had cautioned us to give without a pause, 45
except one time—the last time—in the springtime.
Mrs. Holtz wept that time
when she sang within our ring of children
the old song “Thee Would I Love Truly.”
Instead Mrs. Smith hugged and kissed her then, 50
and we were not unruly.

She never came again.
But the next winter,
during the quiet time,
as we bent over our arithmetic, 55
though some would cough
and some would sneeze,
and our teacher’s clock would tick and tease,
we could hear again
her soft refrain— 60
the furnace hum- humming still
and the ice fall-falling again
from our goulashes and gloves again.
Someone drum-drumming again,
someone sing-singing again 65
above these common harmonies.

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Categories: Poetry

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