Friday, August 10, 2018

Beethoven's Chamber Pot

—Anonymous Chamber Pot Photos
—Poems by Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA


Your smile invests you like new skin,
soft, shining, scarless:
will it armor you, is it to nestle in
when nights turn late, long, and starless?

Who dreamed up summer calendars that poise
first summer at the solar year’s high point?
St. John’s Night, revelry, unhampered joys.
Then sharp decline from the solstice. Out of joint.
The season’s true north should be May, not June.
My solstice, you gave burning sun to one
whose early summer beamed frost from the moon.
Your smile—your fire-stick—kindled, lightly spun.

So long ago I wrote of starless nights,
dreaming you into cloud. Black skies prolonged
themselves from that midsummer noonpoint. Then
I longed for radiant baths, great day-delights,
to come back, or at least night-shimmering, pronged
galaxy-wheels, all stars. But not again.   


I’m listening to the Viola Phantasy
of Arnold Bax. Two soloists, two worlds:
the BBC Philharmonic richly unfurls
that Irish turf-scented, heathery D Minor key.
Under Andrew Davis, all hew explicitly,
with Philip Dukes, the violist, to a gray-pearled
light, spectral along the Donegal coast, that whorled
within foam or cloud wherever Bax might be.

Oceans away, Hong-Mei Xiao draws her bow
in service of that same piece. Scant local color:
the Sinn Fein rebelliousness, the drenching dolor,
the love for The Brown-Haired Girl, she seems not quite to know.
The acoustic sounds drowned in deep waters off Hy-Brasil,
the orchestra hesitant, yet Xiao confidently
surmounts all. Determined, headlong virtuosity;
pentatonics ring out like sympathetic crystal.

Her approach sounds ineffably Asian, yet the ensemble’s
Hungarian. János Kovács directs and binds
this new mingling of gambits. While Dukes unerringly finds
the phrase-shapes, so does Xiao as a general rule.
The unmistakably Gaelic-dark meditation,
the accents and weights and rubatos of Mr. Dukes,
seem absent in Xiao; and yet her swift dekes and jukes,
her violistic prestidigitation!

The trumpet, in both, fanfares ambiguously:
its treble, affirmative major; while the bassoon
casts thumbs-down glum minor to sour the “sun-stained” noon.
Could this work’s interpreters be unobtrusively
proving—should its Hibernian strains falter and fall—
this Phantasy’s essence thrives, transnational?   


At Nineteenth and Ortega, what could happen
did happen, close-quartered. Din-swelling practice rooms
filled dawn-first. Just try to spot, in foggy glooms,
that one last space in the parking lot, that napkin-
sized area next to the Mission-style main warren.
Small modern attachments: grafted onto that building,
the awkward sign that new trends, gargantuan things,
made one crescendo of all of us wayfaring

into New Music and Old Music and Modern.
In Hellman Hall, that mayonnaise-jar-small forum,
Daphnis and Chloe Suite Number Two rippled out,
as, on the same concert, same micro-auditorium,
Ives’ Unanswered Question registered its pout
of the acoustically Cubist Transcendental. Now turn

to teachers. Alan Balter. Laurette Goldberg. John Adams,
my foremost, in retrospect. Articulate Man
spoke notes through him, as Leonardo’s ideal utters
strange wonders to architects. Though Da Vinci’s plan
straps him fast to an Ixion’s wheel of adamant
math, new freedoms are what Vitruvian Man mutters.
Minimalism? Expressive waves through Adams ran.

So Adams, our model, would play LPs of Sibelius,
trombone-capped wave-forms of the Finn’s consummate Seventh,
or Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night. Pump unrebellious
graduate students to hesitantly leaven
Adams’ own masterful monologue. Music’s laws,
with scarcely a glance I recall at scores, via earbox,
vouchsafed as never any of J.S. Bach’s
composer kids learned them. Ad-lib axioms, awes. 


Beethoven’s door, knocked at: a visitor
reports. Late morning, bed unmade.
Unemptied chamber pot. Police raids
could scarcely come at any more
inopportune time. Yet, gruffly featured,
the Composer softens, talks at ease
with this politely fellow-creatured
snoop. (No mention of roaches? Fleas?)
In youth, I read this frank account.
That foul apartment dismayed, repelled
me too. Whatever scant amount
of pity, schooled into me, it felt compelled:
This great one’s deafness, worst of all
worst occupational disasters,
with dreadful slow certainty, to befall
a good musician, much less a Master.
My ears less acute now, the empathy
broods within, bids me to recall
the cotton wads stuffed in his suffering ears,
each saturated yellowly
with some quack serum. Now what’s more crass?
Noting that brimming chamber pot,
to guess how he blotted his own…ground bass?
Or to fail to infer that which we ought?
The awakening seizure of inspiration
unbroken since dawn-light, disrupting ablution?
That intruder from Austria, was he the one
who remarked on the coffee Beethoven brewed?
Vienna-style, black—strong—nicely done, too.
As we all know, a fine diuretic.
Sharp-scented Immortal, unpolished, nay, crude,
stalked always by shadows, all of them Aesthetic…  

Today’s LittleNip:

—Tom Goff

One calm-curving cormorant
at rest atop a Eureka pier.

Every fish between his bill’s pliers
is a Eureka of piscatory skill.

One calm-curving cormorant
at rest atop a Eureka pier

piling, serene above blue reflections the wind,
or the dockside boat-wake, ripples askew.

One calm-curving cormorant
atop a Eureka pier

is worth seventeen cotillions
danced by seventeen fishing-boat flotillas.

Even finer, the cormorant’s spearing dive,
snap and miss, outdoes the mindless

boat-nets—and these, we may take for metaphors
of our graspless thinking souls. 


Our thanks to Tom Goff for today’s fine poetry, and for his patience with Medusa’s irreverent photos to match his slightly—nay, less-than-slightly—irreverence toward Ludwig and his daily needs. So many lovely chamber pots! Google them up, and see how the artistic side of people can decorate (and make fun of) even our lowliest of bodily functions…

And thanks to Tom for his lovely poem about Peter Rodman’s photo of “one calm-curving cormorant atop a Eureka pier”. Sacramento Photographer Peter Rodman is married to Sacramento poet Jane Blue.


Celebrate poetry, and don’t forget our 
Seed of the Week: Catching My Breath.

Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back
to Medusa.