by David Keplinger
--after Leon Fleischer
The hand did not wake up. Forty years
I spent thinking of the right, the right.
The left hand got bored.
I am a pianist, I told the right hand.
I am Fleischer. The clamp of the hand
persisted. Brahms in A minor persisted.
I am thinking of how Brahms
would sink from my brain
into the ball of my right shoulder,
how I felt it moving from the triceps
to a place above the elbow, about
right here, then crippled itself.
It was more like a fish, like a fish
in a burst of freezing water, more
stunned, not crippled, not dead. And I
went fishing for that fish,
to coax it from the ice, to lead it
from my elbow to the hand.
There is something I want to tell
about the piano: "You must hear
before you play," my old teacher
once said. I want to tell you
what I heard. I listened to the Brahms
for forty years. I heard it founder
in the ice. I heard a living thing
I wanted only to save. I was
the Brahms. I was cascading down.
I was swimming in the waters. I felt
a tingling in this hand.
I felt it open up and close, becoming
warm again. I was breathing in the warmth. I was making
The Last Day of the Year
by Susan Browne
On the last day of the year, I throw 2005 in the trash.
The calendar is crumpled from falling off the wall; by December,
eleven pages of months have been hanging around long after
their moment in the sun, all bunched up and shivering
behind Ansel Adams’ photograph of Yosemite Valley buried
under pounds of snow. The little squares of days are now at rest,
no more doctor’s and dentist’s appointments,
no more root canals, cancer scares, English Department meetings,
the year collapsed in on itself, 365 black holes added to the cosmos
of newspapers, yogurt containers, and wine bottles.
Staring at the empty space on the wall, I’m soothed by utter blankness.
Nothing to look forward to, nothing to look back upon.
No yearning, no remembering. As if God pushed the Pause button.
A shiver shoots down my spine, and I think about getting a new calendar
as soon as possible, on January 2nd when the stores open,
and the machine of the world cranks up again. The world of things
to do, places to go, people to meet, little squares of days
in the sun, a table, blue flowers in a vase, a menu, a glass, a plate.
by D.H. Tracy
That visitors arrive today is good and bad.
The tulips insist too firmly on the sweetness of youth;
the flagstone on the walk has cracked, and dust
piles on the cellar sills so deep it shows
the footprints of a mouse. One door sticks.
One won’t shut. The slipping clutch of their jalopy
whirrs in the coomb like a domestic quarrel.
They will have passed the rapeseed not yet in bloom,
and the painting of the fields they will take away
will remind them of a place it does not say.
That is good and bad. The infant sleeps.
The boy senses something and is soothed
but not comforted. Is that the sun or moon, he asks,
pointing to the flattered summer on the easel.
The embarrassing languor of a private life
stretches to the horizon. Hasn’t the cart,
left for months beside the haystack, at the foot of the hill,
slept under both? Someone had better take care of it, no?
If a stray were at your door, wouldn’t you show
a saucer’s-worth of kindness? The house’s stones
gather moss. In her puttering Janet reveres
a chipped enameled teapot, a black-wool sweater,
a pot of chervil. The smells of earth and turpentine
make the visitors more alert and less.
They rustle in a museum of the thorough.
Things will be back to normal tomorrow.
A coppice of bottles rises from the mantel,
no two of them alike. They flare flat-bottomed
or teeter on their rounded ends and glint
in blue and all the colors of the beech. They catch
the fire—and the daylight and pass it among themselves,
a market of willowy and skittish spirits, baskets
full of tinkling snakes, dried and brittle lungs
of beached sea-creatures, candy.
It seemed as if she had, in private, charmed
ice into forgetfulness of melting,
or promised them refuge, or somehow knew
the arguments they were susceptible to,
and now, in the heat of someone’s gaze, they will
twinkle and abide their keeping still.
What if we break? they do not ask.
You shall not break, she does not answer,
nor ever spill that strange, clear distillate
we sip from them, although the threat of it
burnishes the reflective and transparent skin
almost disappeared, and yet a skeleton.
The visitors draw in the breath that blew you.
So a rummaged flask decants them of the fear
they had not noticed, and its delicacy shows
each of us inadequate to the place he knows.
Janet’s rusted and creaking bicycle goes rolling
down past the churchyard and past
the rapeseed and the wheat fields, and Janet hums
a tune that never goes anywhere
or repeats itself. The gray afternoon,
affixed to her spirit with a hundred strings,
leaves her, for that, uncompromising as a bird.
Her brakes sound their tiny squeal, and she watches
an ochre mastiff lumber out of a hedge.
It sets itself in her path and growls.
She breathes and tucks a strand of hair
behind her ear.
The mastiff barks. If she feels fear,
it is the kind one feels alone, at home,
at eleven or at two,
unsure suddenly that one is equal
to what seemed a simple task, wherewithal gone
as utterly as time. The paintbrush is a wheelbarrow
full of lead and bricks.
A thousand acres of stationery
lie immaculate in a keepsake drawer.
The kindness of a mastiff seems
a thing she will never get round to, even as it disappears
rump-last through a gap in the hedge. She hears
nothing, and then the clucking of her gears.
Over a far down a transport drops
eight paratroops for practice, as if
a girl had plucked a dandelion gone to seed.
Neither gone to storm nor drought the day
takes its terrifying middle way,
terrifying to all but Janet, who commends
the tousling politesse of light and shadow, and pretends
the easel is the world and the world
the easel. Is it or is it not pretend?
The village houses, seen from the hills,
or even from the street, inch closer on such quiet days
to hamlets made for model trains
of matchboxes and of cotton wool, and of
a meticulous variety of love.
Enter from the east a model train,
as quiet as a cloud. Janet watches it
until it disappears, occluded by the houses
she is almost pleased with. How splendid they are,
she thinks. The iron, the Georgian sandstone,
the gables. A little quibbling with the oils
will make a light love-labor of their toils.
They have, already, all but captured it.
Time sheets off the shingles of Janet’s cottage,
though a moment of impatience
pry the mortar from between the stones
as surely as a pick. The starlings nibble
fistfuls of breadcrumbs flung on the winter ground,
and starlings nibble on the winter stars.
For years she does not mutter Off with his head.
She quenches, somehow, the foolish always-wanting,
the tantrum, the listlessness and the burgeoning list,
the wail, the wrenching and the brittleness, the whispers
by the garden fence, the cruel intimations
in the saved letter, the frayed silk of her change-purse,
the expectations and the running toilet,
the endless tergiversations and the will
choking itself on the end of its chain.
How did she build her cottage with scraps at hand
to weather the thousand entropies of privacy?
The paintings hang on its inside walls, delible
shadows, frail as paper, frail as glass
through which my demented fire axes pass.
More noise! and a lonely cottage will seem the less
the way one should have proceeded, and ignored
to acquire tastes for vanity and discord.
Spur the needs of the body, prod ambition,
pound the fist at God’s failure or man’s to see
men’s will or God’s made evident through me.
Let in by the window imps of politics and sex
to paste up willy-nilly their unrolled verdicts--
‘precious,’ ‘twee,’ and ‘quaint.’--But Janet,
Janet goes riding her bicycle behind
the windbreak trees she plants within one’s mind,
her attention catching all of that whose lack
has made of life an arithmetic of the shallow
and coarsened for good the matter of her praise.
Say no corner of the heart can hate her
small insistence that the small is greater,
once warmed before the image of her blaze.