Poetry | September 01, 2006

Featuring the poems:

  • Slow Dance
  • Classical Poem [This poem was featured as Poem of the Week April 1, 2008
  • The Small Clasp
  • Public Parks


Classical Poem

I’m listening to a symphony where heroes and villains are still alive.

Not a soundtrack of soldiers parachuting into occupied Belgium

but spies in pinstripes. Not a dark forest

lit up by gunfire and the wild eyes of a lost elk

but a dark alley, a cobblestone alley, an alley where important

documents are being passed between the black leather gloves

of important men

near a window where a barmaid is pouring beer into dirty glasses.

It’s the kind of music to make love to

a tall skinny woman who works all day at the public library,

her breasts roaring like the two lions outside.

It’s what I imagine astronauts are listening to

inside their helmets

while they watch a new planet begin to spin,

and then another and another like notes from a cello until the night sky

looks like an aquarium,

full of the mystical and unreal. Space dust

floating through a dark channel, a movable space

relaxing into itself. I’ll tell you

the composer’s name is Valentin Silvestrov

and I know as much about him as the umbrella I bought yesterday

knows about me. The radio program

says that this is the music of existential metaphor, silent songs,

which I do understand. I have them all the time.

When I first saw your feet, for instance. The curve and bright white

of them. The time you walked into my room

wearing your father’s El Dorado hat and said

I am not my father. This is not his hat. Well, I thought,

you must be suffering

and it was life, the crestfallen drive-thru,

that was making you cry. But it was me.

And I’m no one in particular. I’m certainly not

Valentin Silvestrov living in ’80s Berlin, all the West like a giant carrot

dangling in the blue sky and Rilke’s angels

haunting him, following him

into the bathroom at night, waiting for him on the street

after someone the composer knew had died and it had, for this to be classical,

begun to snow. Heroes and villains killing each other in half

and quarter notes. Valentin putting on his greatcoat

with a rip in the lapel. Walking out toward the traffic. Walking home

and eventually laying down, like all of us, in the well-made, unbearable, bed.


If you are a student, faculty member, or staff member at an institution whose library subscribes to Project Muse, you can read this piece and the full archives of the Missouri Review for free. Check this list to see if your library is a Project Muse subscriber.