Poem of the Week | April 01, 2008

This week’s poem is “Classical Poem” by Matthew Dickman.  It originally appeared in TMR 29:3 (2006).

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
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,