Glenda and Her Guitar, Emilie and Her Piano

By Emilie Glen

The last major collection of Emilie Glen's poems, countering the tragedy of her folksinger daughter's death with memories of her own childhood as a young prodigy at the piano. Darker than her other New York-based poems, this is an unforgettable elegiac book. This was printed in 1991 in a limited edition. The full text is now also available in the printed book, The Writings of Emilie Glen 1: Poems from Chapbooks.

Brett Rutherford writes: Emilie joined me at a French restaurant Easter weekend, and we proceeded to Carnegie Hall. She had never heard a Mahler symphony, and we had front row seats. The program was the "Resurrection" Symphony. After the concert we sat in stunned silence--as anyone must after the cataclyms and then final triumph of Mahler's masterpiece. Emilie merely said, "Resurrection indeed!" She was quiet, muted, as we went back to her apartment on Barrow Street by cab. Then just before she alighted from the taxi, she revealed what was bothering her. "It's Glenda," she said. "What has happened?" I asked. "The worst," was all she could say. Glenda had died that afternoon at St. Vincent's Hospital.

Over the next few months, Emilie got her grief into a large collection of "daughter" poems. She asked me if they would make a book. They were so monothematic and melancholy that I said no. Such a book would be too much grief in one package. No one would be able to bear reading it. Instead, I suggested that she arrange the best of the "daughter" poems with poems about her own childhood as a budding concert pianist. Thus mother and daughter, piano and guitar, childhood to childhood would interplay.

These poems are still overwhelming in their impact. Emilie does not accept death, and her poems never arrive at acceptance. They are written from within the abyss. There is also no hint of the unpleasant reality -- that her daughter was a troubled alcoholic whose death resulted from ingesting cough medicines for a nonalcoholic "high." Emilie distills only the happiest memories and makes her grief undiluted. She keeps of her daughter only the best qualities. Ultimately, the piano poems win the reader over to empathy and understanding. This is a woman who lived for her art -- first music, and then a lifetime of poetry -- but whose existence centered deeply on her family, troubled as it was.

I have happier memories of Emilie -- soaring with the bird watchers in Central Park -- reading her mermaid fantasies after a long trip to Far Rockaway -- or recounting her "Auntie Mame" adventures with the grandson she raised. She acted in off-off-Broadway plays, impersonated Emilie Bronte, performed the witch in Hansel and Gretel, and wrote and published thousands of poems in a five-decade career in which poetry was first and foremost. She will not soon be forgotten.

To order the complete 454-page book of The Writings of Emilie Glen 1: Poems From Chapbooks, click HERE.

 


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Clef of Light

Beyond

She Walks These Hills in a Long Black Veil

Heart Beat

Shape of a Grand

Ash

Piano

How Could You

Garnet Days

Please

Multi Rain

Sure

Decipher Light

Snow Girl

Gone

Hallway

Waldesrauschen

In Bb Minor

Concerto

Chautauqua

How Dare

Losing You

Cat Knows

Sayings

Sun Golded

River Daughter

Gift of Sea Gulls

One More and One More

Swift

Sledding Hill

Educated

Standing Room  Carnegie

Weight of Ashes

Dream 1

Pin Grand

My Grand

Sweet Girl Graduate

On the Wind

Can Never

Grands

Wouldn't If I Could

Fur Elise

Easter Elsewhere

Can't I

Gift of Warmth

Precious

Peaked Hood

Cage, John

A Name

Sky Slate

Bell Tower

Foot Contemplation

Battered

By a Star Brook

Opening

Why Chautauqua

Motherless

Singing Tonight

Shattered Bird

Stone Wings

I Speak Your Name

Red Brick Factory

Vital

And Ashes

Timing

Movie Dark

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CLEF OF LIGHT

Treble clef
   a golden chain about my neck
   emerald barrette in my hair
Treble clef on a page of music
rhythmed as waves of water
as hard to draw as to learn to tell time
I trace a treble clef in the summer stars

Shapes everywhere
   a peach the quarter moon
   boulders brioche china bell
but for me the shape of glory
   is the treble clef
intricately simple
simply intricate
   tracery of traceries
eternal elegance of the treble clef

 

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BEYOND

Glenda and her guitar
I and my piano
Her song earth rich    sky blown
   Her guitar    my piano
past speed of light
   beyond ash
   beyond tears

 

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SHE WALKS THESE HILLS IN A LONG BLACK VEIL

Daughter dear
   young daughter gone from us
I'm not up to you as spirit
   want you in person
   wheat gold hair to the wind
fingers along your guitar strings
folk singing voice I could hear down the block
   and around the corner
drawing people into the coffee house
   where you sang nightly
As you were army officers say
Come back as you were
   I command it
   I demand it
Make a personal appearance tonight

 

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HEART BEAT

Little daughter
   your heart first beat inside me
you tumbled about like zinging baseballs
   Our hearts beat together
went on with the beat of your folk songs

Sunday last in the same hospital
   where you brought
your son to birth nine years ago
   your heart stopped beating
       mine what of mine

 

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SHAPE OF A GRAND

World a grand
   Lid lifted
       Triangled
   Dark polished
Shaking off the globe
   In its mahogany thrust to the skies
Pedals deep into the earth of resonance
   Mighty pianoforte
Alpine keys to an Everest of tone
   Black forest of sharps and flats
Grand  great grand
   For my tone-tipped fingers
Grand in the wind of hurricane
   Pianissimo of rain drops on birch leaves Rack for world music
   Earth the great shape of a grand piano

 

 

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ASH

Used to lie sunning on the sand
   sunning   listening
to my daughter's guitar her folk songs
Sturdy here   golden here
   voice tiding
until her ashes were scattered to the sea

This sun afternoon
I lie staring into the sand
  when a twinkle
almost too bright to look upon
tells me it's my daughter
  in one moment of ash

 

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PIANO

Musicians breathe with their instruments
time their heartbeats by violin  flute  cello
Not so  they say of my piano   my grand
   when the piano is my blood   my bone
   I have fingers of ivory
If you are out of tune   I am of tune
   I yearn into you
How great I am in your grandeur
   Whenever I must leave you
   most of me is missing
I am the expanding universe
   am you piano
the spectrum from near violet to far red

   E=mc2
   A=E
Ashes equal energy
  speed of light

Nancy Whiskey sung blithely
by one who lost her life to alcohol
No permission to scatter her ashes
over the Greenwich Village where she belonged
  Golden hair above the golden globes
  of the cafe that knew the gold
    of her folksongs
What about the sea   the wilding surf
   that knew her guitar strings
      her sea chanties
Now the winds are warm   we will scatter
   her ashes over the sea

Spider legged word   claustrophobia
My daughter's dread of being boxed in
Can't send her down there in the dark
   with her sun yellow hair
Every atom   every cell of her being
   must be free to the wind
Up over the sea   her ashes
   Up with the gulls
   up and up and up
   above an ocean of waters
Up   up   into the forever sky

 

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HOW COULD YOU

Little daughter of the wheat gold hair
young lady daughter
How could you walk out on us
in the dark of Sunday
Easter Sunday
leaving no forwarding address
Death I guess can be a persuasive fellow
A daughter is supposed to cry over me
I'm not supposed to cry over her
until I am a saltsea of tears
I cried over my Mother
isn't that sea salt enough
As it is my tears are falling on the strings
of your silent guitar

 

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GARNET DAYS

My music teacher
the Master on the hill of bells
I would climb up to the Fine Arts Building
a great rock of unpolished garnet
until the setting sun fired the windows
cross the old wooden boards to his grand
the Master's garnet grand
All his pupils devout
I would look up to him for everything
the Master from Leipzig
how to dress for the concert
what foods would make me the better virtuoso
how many dates would harm my work
His wrath mighty
if your scales were uneven
we trembled for the bluebells of his praise
All of us devout
until Annette
a lesser pupil he began to aggrandize
Curl of contempt in her finger
when he stamped his foot small boy
From then on Annette played the role
of Prima Ballerina Assoluta
he a beaming toddler
gurgling at her every command
She rearranged his work schedule
forbade him to give anyone but herself
an instant over the hour
sat in on our lessons
imposing suggestions
The Master melted down like a plastic spoon
in hot coffee
while we melted down to nothing much
without the Master

 

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MULTI RAIN

Debussy's Gardens in the Rain
if I could compose
it would be Fire-escape Flowers in the Rain
complete with bees

 

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PLEASE

Daughter little daughter
please please
stay around long enough
to see me through your your
I can't bear to say
your funeral
When it was your Father
you planned the least detail
How can you leave me like a paper doll
left out in the rain
don't let the metal skies fall on me
the earth close over
worms through eyeholes
Please please
you have an infinity of time
stay around long enough to see me through
the service

 

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SURE

Knocking around out there
unborn
my little daughter
noting the available parents
and picking us
Grasped my finger in sure greeting
when her petaled delicacy immobilized me
sure friends for life
Knocking around out there again
called deceased
grasp my finger again
grasp my finger

 

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DECIPHER LIGHT

Mama you can see me
truly you can
if you will work at it
as you do your piano
truly
Here's how Mama
Learn to decipher light
I am light
my molecules are here
for your assembling

And Mama listen
When you hear the winds
dune winds
dawn winds
the sound of waters
you'll hear me singing my folk songs
and talking
talking to you
as always

 

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SNOW GIRL

Wondrous snowflakes
Whitest white
snow flakes formed on dust point ash point
My daughter's young ashes
chill comfort when I want the flakes
to form a snow girl
my daughter's golden hair flying
as she runs into a cafe of songs
down street from the Square of Washington
opening her guitar case and
singing singing

 

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GONE

Daughter gone
I can't make it to spirit
Come to me
not as light a stir of air
not as a winged cloud
a touch of snow
Come to me embodied or not at all
No no I don't mean blank
Come any way you can
I'll be waiting

 

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HALLWAY

Not anywhere
The old music-box
Anywhere I know of
A big black affair
In the dark hallway
Of my grandmother's house
On the hill above her village
Nowhere but in a backroom of my mind
Whenever I lifted the lid
The whiskered gold cylinder
In light from the thick-prismed door
Turned to music of the Rhine
Beneath a pastel picture of the castled river
I leaned on the cool of the marble-topped table
And watched the teeth of a super comb
Shake out Brahms Waltzes
Fur Elise Midsummer Night's Dream
So the cherubim-wreathed card read
I was never sure which
In the listening sometimes
A train whistle searched the hills
For something lost

 

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WALDESRAUSCHEN

Lilacs yellow lilacs
Fly me through yellow lilacs
Wet with sea salt
I am fragrant
Am sea salt
Yellow curls to my waist
When I sat at the piano as a child
In taffeta that murmured
Along with Liszt's Waldesrauschen
Playing through yellow lilacs

 

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CONCERTO

Ampitheater under the stars
upside down dome for my grand and me
the notes I play taking their star places
Through the stirrings of audience
I hear the crickets
the pinging of star bells
Concerto to burst the heavens into dawn
toward music yet unheard
Why don't I play the notes now
form them to new stars
leaving the orchestra light years behind

 

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IN B FLAT MINOR

His wife sets out the chairs
for concert class tonight,
the piano lid gleaming
like the lake below.
A little girl prodigy arranges wild flowers,
phlox and black-eyed susans
in a snowblue vase
while the virtuoso stands sad.
"It's more than I can do
to hold this class,"
he says from out the British reserve
that has kept his good from great.
Top ten among pianists,
he can fill the world's halls
with his virtuosity, his musicianship,
when he could be great beyond all others
if feeling were ever to fire his tones.

"I have just lost my young nephew,
the only son I ever had.
He was mountain climbing in the Rockies.
We flew a kite once almost past seeing,
I used to fear for his fearlessness."
"Did he have your gift of music?"
"The harmonica was his extent.
We concocted many a musical joke.
He saw so many politicians,
He wanted to be would have been
a statesman"

He listens for answer to his unspoken why,
in the night fields, the lullaby lake,
the summer wind through the elms.
Chairs begin to stir with students,
"I have just lost my young nephew,
he was a son to me.
For him I am playing
the Chopin Bb Minor Sonata."
He sits down to the grand,
silences the cricket-singing fields " _
with his tones,
all of him out to his fingertips,
entering into all who listen

He comes to the Marche Funebre,
chords it to all grief,
impassions it to why why why,
cries rage,
swims the river of tears,
climbs the mountain of his art,
and like the Brocken Specter
of the Harz Mountains
where the atmosphere great shadows
a mountain climber across the sky,
he climbs from virtuoso to great artist.
Can he bring this feeling
to the concert stage?
If so will he be a pianist
beyond all others?

No stem can hold a flower too heavy,
it is a onetime bloom
caught up in the fall,
along with the other onetime shadows
purpling beyond the mountain.
His moment of art
trembles always in the sky.

 

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CHAUTAUQUA

Chautauqua when
always in Chautauqua
when it rains
poising on Chopin's Raindrop Prelude
reaching for Cesar Franck's
Prelude, Aria and Finale
toward world concert stage

Chautauqua when it rains
back in the chicken coop practice houses
about a field of Queen Anne's lace
sweating finger-aching practice
at a wheezing upright
the master waiting at his concert grand
on the hill
the master accepting only pupils
likely to follow him
to virtuoso heights
Chautauqua when it rains
as it rained in Majorca
world stage possible only when it rains
on the practice houses of the field
the white studio on the hill

 

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HOW DARE

You there down the hall
don't you know you've moved in with ghosts
Heedless young girl you've no right
to take advantage of my young daughter's death
my daughter and her Jackie who died
in the tilting leather chair

What right have you to turn on the lights
at an hour when my daughter and Jackie
would be sleeping
from the street I can see the wall fixture
no longer hung with guitar strap
in bright-woven yarns
to turn them off when yellow lights would tell me
I could look in on them

How dare you padlock my daughter's door
when you leave
she always left it open
Don't you feel crowded in there
Don't you feel alien
You usurper
don't bother to be sweet on the stairs

 

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LOSING YOU

Daughter
my darling
I've crystallized enough tears
over your young death
to fill your treasure box
Tonight I will sort out my tears
many of them are for times gone while you were still here

Playing paper dolls
Jumping in your little school uniform
all the way to the soda fountain
Creating a snow cat
Catching a sunfish naming her Rosetta
before giving her a proper burial
First steps first swim strokes
And how does your thumb taste
Like like watermelon
Bending over the new patent leather shoes
Oh oh oh
Here I am crying over what was gone
before you were gone
You had to die for me to know
how much I missed the child you were

 

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CAT KNOWS

My daughter's cat knows
White princess of the black quarter moon
she knows all is not well
without knowing the black moon of death
she runs from our apartment
to the locked door that always opened to her
sits waiting for my Daughter
to take her in her arms

 

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SAYINGS

Come upon them now
almost a year after my young daughter
died on Easter Sunday
her child sayings
penciled on scraps of paper
casually put away
after all she would be a long time here
As every hair of her head is numbered
so in death are her words
A four-year-old boast
I know all about God--Episcopal
followed by I have a little sky in me
and I love you with all my sky
Night's pitch black Milk's pitch white
Your little eyes are my puppies
Ice cream cones taste like smothered flowers
My home is in your eyes
Your spankings feel good
like a little rosebud being rubbed on my back
You can't have my comfortableness anymore
No no more

 

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SUN GOLDED

My place
beneath
a tarpaper roof in rain
My place
is an eagle
with white head
sun golded
The eagle flies me up to whiteheaded mountains
above the white waters of rivers
Sun wings that will never melt
they will feather me
to the lighted cities
of the globe
I have earned the concert stage
sweat dropping to piano keys
in soundproof rooms
My place an eagle
a snow headed eagle

 

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RIVER DAUGHTER

Hudson a snake about me
Glistening green snake
we swallow each other

Hudson a chimp
Tossing blue coconuts

Hudson sings
To the bouncing red ball
of sunset

Hudson Mrs. Van Winkle
In hundred year wake
Headed horsewoman

River munching cars
Crumbling highways
Allowing city towers for a time
River of red dinosaurs
Purple grapes

Hudson daughter of mountain lakes
Rapids deepening to broad long flow
Toward sea ultimate
Grand pianos on its currents
Crash into Statue of Liberty
Greatest theater in its water music
Permitting me on her concert stage
Drowning me that I may rise up out of her waters

 

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GIFT OF SEA GULLS

Daughter young daughter
I'm enfolded in your gift to me
the Christmas before you died
a down filled snowcoat embroidered with sea gulls
you were never quite warm enough
your fingers waxen cold

Sea gulls on the dunes
used to circle us at our sunset picnics
I stroke the seagulls embroidered
on my snowcoat
look up to the sea gulls in the skies

 

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ONE MORE AND ONE MORE

Just when you think
your tears have salted down all memories
your daughter's death soft wrapped
you come upon a horse block
by the bridle path
where you used to sit and read
waiting to pick her up at school
Then you know there will always be
one more and one more one more
but never another now

 

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SWIFT

Sledding hill gone
No you are gone from the sledding hill
my daughter of songs
you are cosmos everywhere
reminding me at the moment
to go down into the basement
get out the sled
and bring our little boy to the sledding hill
No need to take turns
she'll be part of our swift down
bearing us up lest we dash our sled
against a stone

 

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SLEDDING HILL

Dead
some say
My daughter is dead
but she gave me a nudge in the snow whirl
to our sledding hill hurry
feel the whizzing wind in the swift down
We know every gouge and dent
every rock on the Park hill
from the bronze Pilgrim sword through his Bible
to Hans Christian Anderson holding his book
where my little son and I
lie on our sleds wondering up at
upsidedown trees in sycamore seedballs
dipping blue water skies
not up to where she might be
for she is beside us
the slow slipsiding climb
worth the wind whizzing down
all three of us we are sno
w
swirling snow

 

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EDUCATED

Educated taste
Liszt dubious
Want him want Liszt
Want to play him tear flowing grandiose

Grieg I am supposed to scorn
Scriabin a mere rehash of Chopin

I button into Bach
respect Beethoven's Quartets
Curtsy to Mozart
but Liszt Liszt I must have
cadenzas and all
forests of velour ruby rain lava lit purple
Liebestraume all the way
Let me wallow let me soar
let me yearn let me burn
into Liszt

 

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STANDING ROOM CARNEGIE

Standing room in plush and gold Carnegie
where we don't stand we sit
cozy into a lushplush rug
up two balconies
fly our magic carpet out to the sounds of symphony
often we wangle a cool green wall
to lean against
eyes closed who needs eyes for hearing
glory sounds uninterrupted
by eye jump from soloist
to brasses to strings
undistracted by the conductor's arm beatings
Standing room Carnegie
plushlush cool walled
eyeless we fly sound past speed of light

 

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WEIGHT OF ASHES

Darling daughter
worried about your weight
insisting your poundage be fashion right
hanging your clothes on a hickory limb
and retaining water
Now your ashes are out on the sea wind
an ash of yours
perhaps on my swimming arm
particles to seagulls' wings
lightsome part of cosmic dust

 

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DREAM 1

Night of no rest
dream I dream
Length of the keyboard
I sweat the night storming the piano keys
no more practicing in the day
with world concert stage beyond my fingertips
tossed in the moon of full
I eagle the grand
sound devil strings
fly outer space on arpeggios
play rings round Saturn
no end to the keyboard
no beginning no end
white keys in the blood of my fingers
breath of hurricane

I play play play play
without end amen
sleeping the night red awake
I return limp as sea lettuce
to the turtle crawl day

 

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PIN GRAND

Pin piano
after jousting with grands
I find I'm only up to playing
a pin piano
the grand kept throwing me
for all my hours of practice
Learned how to make my own pin piano
by pressing an octave of common pins
into soft wood
tallest the lowest short the highest
wound with rubber bands
I am virtuoso of the pin piano

 

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MY GRAND

Grand Duchess
Grandmother
Grand daughter
Grand Lama
Grand Slam
Grand should be reserved
for my grand piano
Grew up with my grand

My grand moved miles
Is ailing from river damp
Sounding board cracked
Rending of the veil
The temple veil
Plague of moths at the felts
In the dust of a haunted house
Its mahogany like crackleware
Scratches gashes
Bleeding white
Not enough money to put it in drydock
For a launching down the waves
 
My piano my grand
Perhaps someone will buy
Pay the thousands for reconditioning
And it will live high above the Park
Beneath a fire glinting chandelier

 

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SWEET GIRL GRADUATE

Your certificate darling daughter
I never kept you from the water
your certificate your diploma
death certificate in cheerful yellow
duly signed and sealed
You have graduated dear one
Congratulations
you have graduated from life

 

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ON THE WIND

Too young I tell my daughter
for lines in your lake clear forehead
Whenever you feel your facial muscles tightening
relax and smooth the least start of lines
Never mind
Now you are ashes on the wind

 

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CAN NEVER

No piano
no grand shining sunset
my walks music remind
No room for an upright
in a one-room apartment
no room even for a spinet
On my way to the daily typewriter
I tentacle my fingers
as I pass the music school
laddered with practice notes

Coming home to my pianoless
I hear music minglings into twilight
my fingers leave me
for the keys up there

New piano in 2B
a child at her scales
I climb up past
The lid the lid can never close

 

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GRANDS

Eighty-four pianos
eighty-four grands
Nothing grander than a grand
eighty-four grandiose
in honor of the Olympics
Eighty-four males in white evening suits
What no ladies in white pants
They're all Gershwin you see
playing his Rhapsody in Blue
Victor Herbert in Castle Gardens
tried to multiply his sound
with a flock of violins
not knowing that many violins sound no louder
Eighty grands times four
equal Gershwin guffawing

 

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WOULDN'T IF I COULD

Mozart's piano of walnut wood
went for a few florins
Oh to own
No no wouldn't own if I could
Charged with his gifts his griefs
the piano would be genieoactive
explode me to nothing

 

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FUR ELISE

Fur Elise
violet in the grass
Beethoven relaxing
Why do I play it cafe nightly
when Elise holds my virtuoso fingers back
from tornado
Requested nightly by a girl alone
when I can glitter Liszt cadenzas
Play Schumann's Carnival
the Appassionata
I didn't practice six hours a day
to stay back with Fur Elise
the little simp

 

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EASTER ELSEWHERE

Dead on Easter Sunday
my young daughter
her forsythia ponytail loosed
Elsewhere she is elsewhere
Where is elsewhere

I skip a stone out on Easter waters

Her guitar is in the closet
she is elsewhere
Where where is elsewhere
Is it an island
I'll borrow a boat
and row to elsewhere
Is it somewhere North of cypress
pointing the evening sky
I look up at the seething stars
without seeing elsewhere
where

 

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CAN'T I

If criminals can appeal endlessly
why can't I
My young daughter in the death house
executed hospital style
If criminals can
why can't I

 

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GIFT OF WARMTH

My young daughter
did she know
I don't believe she
but the gifts to me before she died
gifts of warmth
who never could get warm
mittens furlined gloves a muff
enveloping stole in midnight blue
down-puffed snow jacket
the grey of her ashes

 

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PRECIOUS

Treasures my little daughter
can't take with her
along death's low-way
a cloth cat
turtle of olive wood
knitted doll
skeleton candle
treasures of little value
the most precious now she's gone

 

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PEAKED HOOD

My daughter in a peaked hood
Perky peak for one so ill
Never to be an old face in a young hood
dead long before
In the blue mists of forgetfulness
I think I see her riding her bike
almost call out to her
and to someone else in a peaked hood
and someone else and someone else
city of bikers in peaked hoods
never my daughter

 

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CAGE, JOHN

Nightly the John Cage poster
shadow-wings the cafe stage
I am here also
playing the piano without innovation
no papers between plucked strings
Eyes of the diners fixing on CONCERT BY CAGE
as I try to outwit balking keys

 

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A NAME

Want don't want
a name
a name of fame
not for me an anonymous house
on an anonymous street
so I black white pages with musical notes
towards a name name of fame
I practice the piano aching long hours
for here a concert there a concert
Want don't want a name
When I look up at the blue slate of sky
I want my name written up there
but when I am with the ones I love
I want to be nameless
downed by their ills
leaping with their joys
living dying
as ages of nameless lived and died

 

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SKY SLATE

Blank the sky blank blue
a slate nobody writes on
I visit my daughter on the hospital patio
listen to her guitar her songs
above the many windows
blank blank blue
waiting for I don't know what

Three years of sky
clouded cloudless
when it is written
across the blue blank blue
my daughter of songs
will sing no more
not on this earth

 

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BELL TOWER

Bell towers many
Bell tower one
by the bronze still lake
of Chautauqua at evening
My hands in my lap
still as egrets after a sweating day
of piano practice towards concert class
in the white studio on the hill

Bell tower of the lake
just here world here
sky deepening
bells and bats fly out
bells and bats and bats and bells
and my hands in my lap
not yet ready to play in concert class
prodigies so rampant
I might never reach world concert stage
hands in my lap
at evening
dark in my lap

 

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FOOT CONTEMPLATION

Dirty little feet
my young lady daughter's
from her not too clean floors
dust mice stuck with kitty gravel
bit of leftover glitter
She would bounce into my apartment
plop on my sofa
Wait wait till I cover the upholstery_
we would chat about this and that
while I contemplated her feet with some disdain
Now in the days after her death
What ransom wouldn't I pay
to have her endanger my upholstery
with her dirty little feet

 

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BATTERED

My moment upon the stage
my moment
mine
such as it is
couple of raised boards
against a coffeehouse wall
my back to the audience
I ride my piano mule
its grinning teeth in need of dentures
storm out an obstacled Malaguena
Chopin's Revolutionary Etude
Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody
avoid pieces that depend on the dead keys

Some listen
but mostly I play
send out my soul on a battered piano
play play
into the dawn wind

 

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BY A STAR BROOK

My young daughter
dead since Easter
By a star brook that's how we'll meet
Countries they have boundaries
then there must be boundaries
between life and after life
In studying maps of the heavens
we find a star brook where we'll meet next Easter
running to one another
across star stepping-stones
We'll talk Oh how we'll talk
She will play her guitar and sing for me
all the rollicking old songs
and the new

 

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OPENING

Concerto on radio waves
In the opening of my door
Not even sure which concerto
Homes glimmering about the lake of time
Live in them listening
At the piano of my home on the hill
Playing the Moonlight Sonata
Out to moonless poplars
Playing above New York harbor
In the home of my first marriage
Playing in the highrise of my second marriage
Brownstone of here
Where I have no piano
But I am playing
In the opening of my door

 

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WHY CHAUTAUQUA

Blinding white studio
by Lake Chautauqua
My memory sweats back to chicken-coop practice houses
circling a field of devil's paintbrush
and Queen Anne's lace
I practice scales towards world concert stage
longing to swim the lake

Why am I back in my Alice-blue-gown
trembling at the master's frown
when I have the great Atlantic to swim?
Why am I ever in Chautauqua? Why?
Perhaps because I never made
world concert stage

 

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MOTHERLESS

Daughterless Mother
Sometimes I feel
like a motherless child
Hear you playing your ghost guitar
singing in the silence of wherever you are
to your daughterless
daughterless Mother
who feels like a Motherless
Motherless child

 

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SINGING TONIGHT

Daughter of songs
where are you singing tonight
your tones deep as hibiscus
highpure as a mountain brook
Ashes scattered on the winds
will they come together somewhere
your ashes your songs
somewhere sound somewhere?

 

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SHATTERED BIRD

Christmases ago
I lost my temper
exploded over nothing much
hurled to the sidewalk
whatever was in my hand
my little girl's glass bird
She picked up all that was left
a tail of iridescent glass fibers
rubbed it against her cheek
Through twenty-eight Christmases she remembered
Would take what was left of her bird
out of her secret drawer
This Christmas I found the exact bird
but she died before I could give it to her
Now only I remember

 

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STONE WINGS

Little daughter
a scampering four
climbed up to ride the stone Pegasus
of the Plaza fountain
flew his wings of stone above your city

Pronounced dead at thirty four
Are you riding a winged white horse
across the skies and beyond

 

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I SPEAK YOUR NAME

Too many times
many times many
I say Glenda by mistake
when there is no Glenda
not here not now
nowhere I know of
Let the wind say your name
the wind the waves
Glenda Glenda
will I ever stop speaking your name to another
often to your little son
Speaking your name my way
of never saying was

 

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RED BRICK FACTORY

Long longer longest
longest red brick factory
ever seen in a Massachusetts mill town

Why so long?

Once when pianos were more coveted than cars
piano wires were stretched the length
of this red brick factory
now cut up into apartments

Not a sign left then?

Why I can hear them to this day
the wires stretching
toward the perfection of piano
I walk the red brick length
missing the grand from my sixteenth birthday
sold along with the rest of the furniture

Don't they have red brick factories anymore
just to stretch piano wires?

Inside of me those wires sing the planet
and beyond

 

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VITAL

My daughter of the wheat gold hair
strumming her guitar strings to life
singing life
the gold of life
How can she be nothing
but a dull yellow death certificate
closing over the gold
with vital statistics

 

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AND ASHES

Fireworks to celebrate
a hundred years of Brooklyn Bridge
when my daughter lived only thirty four
bridge my daughter and I crossed many a summer
for Coney Island fun
I watch the sky glories
with her little son
Through the star bursts fiery caterpillars
flower circlets fountains of fire
we can make out the ghost trains crossing the bridge
We soar with the firebirds
fall with the ashes
fireworks and ashes
my little girl's ashes

 

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TIMING

Little daughter
little daughter of songs
such timing in your performance
but when you went from us
your little boy and me
your timing was off
You overhurried to become ashes
on the sea wind
instead of waiting for the lates
t

Out over the limiting sea winds
when your ashes
when your ashes could be rocketed
into outer space
on an almost forever trip
at least nineteen million years
Our star wars boy ever scanning the heavens
would glimpse faint glisterings
as of cosmic dust

 

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MOVIE DARK

Mozart
his impending death on the movie screen
My dead young daughter with him
in the flow of Oceanus round the globe
I was playing Mozart while my daughter was growing
impudent Mozart thumbing his nose
at the portrait of his father
impudent daughter ignoring math for folksinging

I go to no medium see no visions
hear no voices
still in the movie dark
ghost shadows keep rhythming before my eyes
Could my daughter be coming through
or are they shadows from the projection room
of someone sneaking a smoke
or my eyes adjusting to the dark
What a good rhythming of veils
when I want only her folksinging laughing self

Mozart my daughter both with a sense
of impending doom
Mozart composing his Requiem
My daughter singing Where have all the flowers gone
I stay in the dark with Amadeus
until the funeral cart slows along the cobblestones
to the strains of his Requiem
then I stumble past the seated row
and out into the sun sharp street
only one to leave before the end

 

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Revised October 2002.