Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Banishing Misfortune

—Poems by Deborah Bachels Schmidt, El Sobrante, CA
—Photos Courtesy of Public Domain

King David's Lyre


After thirty-four operas,
Rossini withdrew to Bologna
and wrote almost nothing.
It may have been just as well.

Harper Lee, after distilling
her Alabama childhood into
the incandescent Mockingbird,
never finished another novel.

And Rimbaud, perhaps, like the bateau ivre,
overwhelmed by the visions
he’d risked everything for,
gave up poetry at twenty-one.

But there is no silence
like the Silence of Järvenpää,
where, after summoning the forest spirit for Tapiola,
Sibelius turned from his work.

Was it the darkness he carried
that silenced him?
Was it the unsparing inner voices
he could not silence

that drove him to burn
the eighth symphony? He had said,
“If I cannot write a better symphony
than my Seventh, then it will be my last.”

Aino remembered,
“I did not have the strength
to be present
and left the room.

I therefore do not know
what he threw onto the fire.
But after this my husband became
calmer and lighter of mood.”

He may have drawn peace from knowing
that the primal forces
he had given voice to
must always be heard,

that he was merely speaking for
tree and lake, ice and storm,
mist and mountain,
sea and stone.

“Coming from the woods?”
he would ask his grandson.
“What did you see there?”
“Nothing special,” the boy would answer.

With his blue eyes
full of life and sympathy,
the old man would look at him and say,
“Go back and look better.”



Dissolve at least 3,000 years of Jewish heritage
            (the name of the shtetl,
            how to sing the Modah Ani,
            how to make challah,
            where to find grandfather’s grave)

in 1 interreligious marriage.
            Her carpetbag is packed.
            When she hears his violin under her window,
            she will slip down the back stairs in her stocking feet.
            She knows her father will disown her.

Stir in 10 children, 1 world war
            (Fourteen Levy sons and cousins
            fight under the British flag.

            Staff Sergeant Claude Levy
            escorts the King through the Belgian firing lines),

and 2 decades of rising anti-Semitism.
            In 1921 the London Times
            debunks the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,
            but still thousands believe
            that Jews conspire to control the world.

Change the names of almost all the children.
            The girls lose their surnames in marriage.
            William and Hubert become Beaumonts, Cecil a de Lee.
            Harold and Leopold Levy reinvent themselves
            as Dewar Montague and Stanley Vivian.

Scatter them across the 7 seas
            (Hubert joins the Merchant Marine,
            Cecil is a peripatetic vaudeville actor,
            music hall artiste Dewar sails for South Africa,
            and William and Phyllis come to San Francisco)

to form 10 new families. Let ferment for 2 generations
before shaking with 1 more world war.
            The London night is split by searchlights and sirens.
            A shadowy Heinkel births its deadly payload
            over the Great Synagogue.
            Flames taste the edges of a grandmother’s marriage 

Add a holocaust.
            How many Polish and German cousins,
            Falks, Summerfields, Solomons, and Levys,
            who stay behind
            are lost in the camps?

Make sure all records are destroyed.

 Hora Dance at Kibbutz Dalia, Israel, 1945

(Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique, Movement III)

Conducted in a dreamy six, with five beats softly
pulsing on one plane, the sixth a gentle lift,
our shepherd pipes his plaintive call, ambiguous
in key and meter both. An echo sounds, as if
another shepherd answers from beneath his tree
across the fields, an octave higher, faithfully

reflecting every tone. The English horn repeats
his melody, but now he flats the third, and when
you think all has been changed by that one note, he stays,
continuing to play beneath his far-off friend.
There is such magic in this blending of their parts,
both time and key defined at last, our waiting hearts

warmed open by the blossoming of harmony.
A pause—their calls resume, made rich and subtle by
appoggiaturas and chromatic passing tones,
and now the strings begin to faintly underlie
the reeds with tremolos, which surge like looming storm
before the piece subsides into the rustic calm

it opened with, and flute and strings begin the lilting
central theme. The prelude is no longer than
a minute, yet in that brief span it conjures up
a mythic world for us to wander in, a land
and time apart, horizons wide and twilight long.
It is a miracle, this sunset shepherd song,                                                   

its true, exquisite end the unscored moment when
our offstage oboist comes quietly to his seat,
slipping in between the cellos and bassoons,
and, as he passes, leaving lightly on the cheek
and shoulder of his counterpart a swift caress
in tender thanks for this most perfect of duets.


Today’s LittleNip:

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.

—Maya Angelou


Many thanks to Deborah Schmidt for her musical batch of poems today!

For up-coming poetry events in our area, including those which are being cancelled due to COVID-19, scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info—and note that more may be added at the last minute.



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