Soul Solvent

for Ahmad Gholami and musicians everywhere

If it has only ever known cruelty
How can the soul be solvent?
Without music the soul hardens,
The heart staggers in arrears to its assets,
Brutality has no solutes
With which to dissolve into compassion.
To be soul solvent is not a music-less song.
To be soul solvent is a solution,
To love is the distillation of evolution,
To sing is the soul’s joy in salvation.
They cut off the head of music,
The body continued to sound out.
They cut off its arms, it tapped its feet.
They filled it with molten metals,
Music rang out like a bell.
They burned all the instruments,
Music sang in the fire, mocking them.


There’s one piano note my daughter plays
it’s like a pearl has appeared in the room
quasi niente like sunshine on water
ineffably tender like a white rose at the limit of its stem
a snowflake forming the keys of its crystal
a moonlit seashell butterfly instant and dove of light
a soundless note that absorbs all other notes
and like an afterimage
rings with the absence which it struck

Fall Notes

The beat of a train
At the crossroads of rain

Trucks on the street
And wiping of feet

The rasping of leaves
And patter of eaves

With leaf blowers
Offensive to the last flowers

And avian overtures
Announcing departures

Autumnal music
Turns inwardly magic

It fades from the forest
Like flowers from a florist

It creaks like a door
And falls through the floor

The descent is unkind
To the shelter of the mind

With accelerated sawing
The rot is gnawing

With tree shredders
Like men of letters

Outside our windows
Drift reds and yellows

Apples percussing
A quieter sussing

With more and more blue
Fruiting into view

More and more space
Attending the race

And late-night squalls
Pushing pianos over walls

Mezzo Piano

for Jordan Anderson

The piano teacher dies.
His fingers on the piano keys
Like water dripping from a ceiling
Into the silence of a cave.

The piano teacher dies.
His student now sheds
His practiced changes
Into the void of time feel.

The piano teacher dies.
His student discovers himself
As though crossing hands
At the moment of breaking free.

The piano teacher dies.
The student sits down
To play into the space
Of another accompaniment.

One Pure Note

for Eva Cassidy

Too pure a voice for this life
God’s child and Angel chorister
Deep bride of song
Painter of soul imagery
Spirit inspirited
Death’s half-step and pause
Old child of beauty
Heart translator
Music’s incarnation
With vocal cords
Absolute pitch and blend
Back phrasing from Paradise

Can There Be Enough Music

When music is silent
People are dancing
When people are silent
Blight is consensual
When truth is silent
Havoc is raging
When wind is silent
Storms are mounting
When thunder is silent
Light is imploding
When waves are silent
Distance is singing
When stones are silent
Earth is trembling
When fire is silent
Water is burning
When rain is silent
Hunger and thirst
When music is silent
Madness is shrill
When stars are silent
The hum is silent
When God is silent
Can there be enough music

Musicians in the House

Fill the air with music and talk,
A little wine and later, Bach.

Lulls punctuated by counterpoint
Are their own musical midpoint.

It is like love at prima vista,
Music my first and ever lingua.

I listen to their close voicing
Without myself at all digressing

Into the old man, the angry man,
The bitter and forgotten sideman.

Listening cries angels in my ears
And piano runs melt my fears

And the trumpet my daughter plays
Distills the light with moon rays

And the changes they are blowing
Are the real future we are sowing.

Musical Ruins

Listen, you can hear the walls
Collapse base lines of brick and mortar.
You can hear electric wires
Playing last solos of Woodstock light.
Piano keys compose dust into rows
Of musical crescendo and demolition.
Cellos moan like shuddering lumber,
Violins cry panes of splintering glass,
The acoustics rebound into emptiness,
Hours upon hours of practice
Keep tempo now with wind and space
And the young singer I once heard
In full voice behind a closed door,
Shakes like a tree and won’t give way.

À la Sicilienne

My father cuts hair at Cinema Paradiso.
I see him in barbershop mirrors
Like time is repeated on eternity’s reel.

My cousin owns a purgatorial liquor store.
As it was on earth, wine and rapture.
As it will be at rebirth, wine and rapture.

My grandfather shivers like a boy
Even though he’s crossing a lava pit:
Empedocles between love and the void.

My aunt knits ground snail covers
Fit for the gardens of an earthly nirvana
And cradles of dead, infant, elder brothers.

My mother is like a Greek statue
Who gave birth to music in stone,
The triumph of death in the mirror of bone.

School of Music

Not the doors we never open
But the invitation of a violin.

A student sings from La bohème.
Better than ovations, his passionate devotion.

In another room, two trumpets
Sound out the physics of justice.

A young woman with bass clarinet
Or strange fish caught in a drift net.

A bassoonist down the corridor,
All thumbs at the woodwind door.

Every work a work in progress,
Perfecting imperfection in chorus.

Not the doors we never open
But the invitation of a violin.