There are those for whom figureson balconies exist, if only as possibilities.
People in photographs with armsoutstretched in salute or worship
before the empty terrace wherea figure is meant to appear—for now,
for repeated scenes, for always.
And there are those with their politics, theirfears and hopes caught in those adoring thrusts,
who must make their gestures even as theyare the ones whose gestures will be mocked
even as that mocking is accounted for.
There exists the brushed-back reticence of the “I”that makes one otherworldly to the world, un autre,
as in Rimbaud’s case, enslaved, the poet wrote,by his baptismal rite. So it is with ritual, with repeats
of word or act—the forms insist on want, on warmthdesired as at a drafty window. It is all clear, clear
as that sun-filled winter day, lucent, brutaland severe, with so much glare the scene
seems pathless, static in its brilliance. [End Page 119]
Turns out, Tirso de Molina, sixteenth-century Spanish monk,born of conversos, dreamed up top trickster Don Juan.
150 years later, Emmanuele Conegliano, converted Jew,A.K.A. Lorenzo Da Ponte, penned the libretto for Don Giovanni.
Online journal Tablet Magazine claims these origins, despitethe Catholic faith of all characters and composer as well,
make this, perhaps Mozart’s greatest work, “a Jewish opera.”Turns out, according to the internet, Don Giovanni’s ethos runs
an electronic river through paranoid URL after URL:no one truly good can do much to save anyone from evil,
not even a loving Christ, whose open arms and forgivenessare as naught to a sociopath like Don Giovanni, so best to kill,
and if needed get what you need to get according to the internetwith its hate sites, ads for AK-47s, designs for IEDs, for gas attacks.
But let’s surf back to Mozart. His opera, beautiful, so lovely in factYiddish poet Glatshteyn writes, instead of God, we should revere
Mozart, whose music surpasses in holiness the Sermon on the Mount.I agree. Despite my irreligion, I have a deep love for Don Giovanni’s
divine last chorus, the one directors often cut, in which singers singof justice triumphant over evil after the villain has been led to the pit.
If the Abrahamic god exists, he’s hidden, never graven, his voiceprofound in the Commendatore’s implacable, graveled m’invitasti. [End Page 120]
Listening To Martinu
Like a bird I told you.The drum tapping its beak,And the great stormy orchestraUndressed me with its throttledCrescendos, stripped downThe politesse and terrified.The savagery of myselfWas tangled like a forest,And the bird drum knocked inside,And I did not know if it loved meOr feared me. [End Page 121]
In The Hallway
Sign on classroom door:“The Mystical Experience in Literature has been cancelled.” [End Page 122]
Michael Heller has published over twenty volumes of poetry, essays, memoir, and fiction. His newest book is This Constellation Is a Name: Collected Poems 1965-2010 (Nightboat Books, 2012). Among his recent books are Escbaton, Beckmann Variations & Other Poems, Exigent Futures, and Living Root: A Memoir. His many awards include the NEH Poet/Scholar Grant, the Di Castagnola Prize, the Fund for Poetry, and New York Foundation on the Arts Fellowships. He lives in New York City.