MUSIC BUILDING, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
Usual endless chain of causality
behind my lateness, late to concert,
late home late going out
sleeping all day the dreams
like anchor chains of shipwrecks under sand
irrecoverable memories . . . Iíll meet you.
Iím up for something. (But Iím not.)
Between each action long pauses for sitting and staring.
For not understanding. It doesnít matter
as I dress, stroll out, change trains.
To tell what I stare at would be to clank the years,
rusty winch, this creaking complaining unfluent voice.
Does it matter that I canít get in till the end of the
playing now. A young woman
with dyed blond hair wide eyes smooth skin
asks me about Theater courses leaning on her boyfriend
hairy chest unbuttoned shirt.
Her high heels have twisted under so she tiptoes without
It doesnít matter if I wait till intermission. L. and
may want to leave, after all, and Iíll save
the price of a ticket. Itís only music. Will my life
be better if I hear it? Will it make me sleep
at night like normal people, and be on time?
I can just as well sit in the lobby hearing the violins
through the crack in the double doors.
So I sit on a red bench in the Edward Johnson Building,
music I canít really catch the feelings or intentions
and pass the time by reading xeroxed Italian poems
Iíve brought to pass along to L.
I canít read Italian, all that comes through
is a line now and then ó Your voice writes in capital
letters . . .
eternal spirit and flesh immortal.
The student sitting on the coat-check counter
dangles his legs so his heels bang together,
the violins and bells get more raucous through the doors,
smokers wait for intermission and the hairy arm
grows heavier on the shoulders of the blonde.
To think that none of them knows Iím in store for them
what a surprise, kell opportoonitay, foreigner on a red
face full of nicks and scabs from shaving too soon after
the last time,
who canít understand them or much of anything else
but especially not them with their elbow-patches and
Here they come at last, among them L. and M., before
I donít need to keep up a face or even this act,
itís intermission, and I can stop.
Narrow streets cafés protected
by curtains of air
Pairs of women happy leaning laughter
no hint they sit at night like you
their lives slack kites
Why tap feet to street musicians why
content with warm quilt rich dessert
summer Stockholm strolling eating
ice-cream cones display of volupté
undreamt by craziest voyeur
Kingís Garden to Old Town and back
narrow streets same musicians same
tunes for ten years circular
court down an alley
blackened literal bronze nude
rising from fountain and there goes
American girl I passed before
flat-footed flat-faced and again
that tan mustached man in thirties
slumped posture waggling walk
different of course from my
gait ó no, stance ó no, stride
past cafés passed before
two women talking earnest
couple kissing under scaffolds
motorcycles fingers in ears
I turn back pass the women
still talking couple kissing
suddenly eyes from café on me
woman ten minutes ago doubled up
laughing leaning girlfriend Library Street
ďThe Friendly PromenadeĒ say banners
Know Iím not bold enough
not enough or too much
too fast Iíve failed
through surfeit and lack
found wanting found human
people need saints I failed
to bound from Mirror Café as large blonde
walking bike reappeared left windowframe
sheís gone into narrow streets to live
in the Land of Ice Cream oh I am
too cautious just think what depends
on one actionís breeze
on one breath of fact
I now publicly request
street musicians ancient dolorous modes
harmony so triste each hair
rise up each heart swell up each up-
ward glance a search no breast
content with own crossed arms
the air-wall tumbling up to banners kites
all humans finding mates on wavy pavements
eroded by scuffing of
five hundred yearsí shoes
Before the flies crawling over the mouths of skeletal
dying on TV in Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia;
before the systematic rape in Bosnia, snipers shooting
before the inarticulate on the streets of America
routinely answered disrespect with bullets;
before the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge
and the Red Guard;
before Kent State and My Lai,
there was Elvis the Pelvis (a name you could give a stuffed
beardless, cherubic, smiling,
referring hipwise to adolescent couplings,
and there were U.S. congressmen who pretended to be shocked.
Later, as everyone knows, he lost it,
killing himself by mainlining chocolate
until he weighed sixteen tons
and crashed through the floor of Graceland like a boulder.
They say he started something, but when I look for whatís
all I see is red rails in the sunset, a sidetrack
rusting in a Swedish forest.
B - A - C - H
Bach is difficult
to hear as well as play
when what he means is
The harmony doesnít always work out.
The fugue doesnít always work out
But then it does
And there are times
when the long organ note is not
followed by another
many seconds to die out
in the vault of a large church
like the Cathedral in the Old Town in Stockholm,
though the end of that echo
may not be the end of
may be followed in its turn
by other notes,
and you cannot always know this,
because you did not write
nor do you know enough
to predict where it will end.
Where there is ignorance
there is hope.
And then there are the easy pieces.
I force myself into the dead space.
Sixty other souls under the gray stone.
A soprano forces out the shadow
of Monteverdi, who is dead.
The words say Laudate but the rules
do not permit applause in Swedish churches. The words
say Exulta but only the last sunlight
rises on the wall as a summer evening
dies outside. The singer rests,
fingers the lifeless body
of a prelude and fugue by Bach.
Iím here because I had nothing
better to do. And to see who else.
ďOh SolitudeĒ by Purcell, the singer explains
is quite simply a hymn to loneliness,
stressed in a tone librarians use to children,
not for new words but the strange idea
that a writer would do such a thing.
Perhaps she has children herself.
I force myself to remember
how that happens. I think
I read it in a book once.
But the macro-mystery was not explained ó
I donít mean the three-in-one
as on the homemade pulpit cover
where the triplicate items resemble golf clubs
(the Driver, the Sand Wedge, and the Holy Putter),
but the two-in-one, or anyway
occasional meetings that permit
exchange of gametes. ďMeetingĒ is the name,
in fact, of a sculpture in the square.
Woman reclining with knees bent up,
the man still standing, a yard away.
Such is a Swedish encounter.
On his bronze erection
someoneís put a condom
for good measure.