-------------Beethoven at Castle Jezeri, Bohemia
A room is safe harbor. No treachery creaks the stair.
I've locked the door; I will not hear them knocking.
Anyone come calling can call themselves blue.
There was a time I liked nothing more thank walking
the woods above Vienna, tramping forest paths
to find a patch of green laid square and plush.
I'd sit, tucked in a tapestry of birdsong, and wait
for my breath to settle; let the sun burnish my skin until
the winged horn of the post coach summoned me home.
And then everything began to sound like
the distant post horn's gleaming trail. . . .
I was careless then, I squandered the world's utterance.
And when my muddy conspirator swayed and quaked
like the tallest poplar tossed by the lightest wind
so that I could read his playing, see my score
transcribed on the air, on the breeze–I breathed
his soul through my own fingers and gave up
trying to listen; I watched him and felt
the music–it was better than listening,
it was the last pure sound. . . .
(My emperor, emptied of honor,
has crowned himself with gold.)
Why did that savage say it? Why did I hear
what he said, why did I mind what I heard?
Good days, why did I mind what I heard?
Good days, bad days, screech and whistle:
Sometimes I lay my head on the piano
to feel the wood breathing, the ivory sigh.
I know Lichnowski listens some evenings;
he climbs the four flights and hunkers on
the stoop. Odd: I can hear his wheezing
and not this page as it rips–the splitting
so faint a crackle, it could be the last
embers shifting in the grate. . . .
from Sonata Mulattica (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., © 2009 by Rita Dove). All rights reserved. Copying to other websites or any kind of reprint is a violation of international copyright laws and strictly forbidden.