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Prairie Schooner 80.2 (2006) 78-80
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Silent Music, and: Afterlife, and: Monet at Giverny, 1921, and: Remember
Silent MusicMy wife wears headphones as she plays
Chopin etudes in the winter light.
Singing random notes, she sways
in and out of shadow while night
settles. The keys she presses make a soft
clack, the bench creaks when her weight shifts,
golden cotton fabric ripples across
her shoulders, and the sustain pedal clicks.
This is the hidden melody I know
so well, her body finding harmony in
the give and take of motion, her lyric
grace of gesture measured against a slow
fall of darkness. Now stillness descends
to signal the end of her silent music.
AfterlifeHe said he believed in life after death.
The proof would be his haunting the landscape
here. I would see him in the shifting breath
of wind when a storm blew in from the cape,
the flash of bittersweet light at dawn,
the time he loved best, or in a wren's song.
I would see and hear my brother's own
life linger in mine, and look for him in long
drawn-out moments before the tide turns,
or in winter rains that never seem to end. [End Page 78]
There he is, in the drenched sword fern's
steady drip after the skies clear, in the bend
of its leaves, the deeper greening. Or now,
in sun laced by haze, the way flaring beams
pinpoint moss on a newly fallen oak bough
instead of the solid earth on which it leans.
Monet at Giverny, 1921Even now, waking in garden shade
sixty years later, as afternoon light
softens around him, Monet remembers
Algerian dawns. He sees sun-drenched
color blaze where there is only haze.
He smells lemon as roses bloom
around his chair. For a glimmering
moment he is back in the place
that taught him how to see.
His Algeria was never the desert drama
of Delacroix, all rearing stallions
and blood-crazed lions, tigers, falcons.
It was not exotic women with servant
and hookah in lavish apartments.
Monet saw it as wispy mornings
of crimson air blanched of blues.
His fellow cadets slept through a riot
of violets and yellows at noon,
the rippling leaves of their tents
green in afternoon sun. Sudden breeze
carried a winking glaze that was saffron
at heart. Nothing looked the way
he thought it would. Nothing held still [End Page 79]
beyond the moment of being seen.
Color lived, and therefore color changed
as time turned his eyes true.
Then he fell ill, came home raving
of the world renewed by Sahara winds.
It seems now, as his mind clears,
that part of him was always old
after Algeria. He struggles to his feet,
struggles for balance. The Japanese
bridge spanning his water garden
is a mere arc of crumbling sand
till he blinks it back together.
RememberRemember, she says, for the rest of us
are bound to forget. Her voice is a shadow
of itself, calling us closer, the message all
in her restless eyes, clouded by cataracts.
We hold her hand. Remember, her silences
say. She sees nothing beyond herself
in this room filled with winter light,
her son and his wife, their mingled breath.
Not long ago, she would have sung
into the space between them, hummed
when words failed her. No more.
Remember is now the only word left
to her. That, and silence, which is a word
in the place she is nearing, where winter
light is the same thing as summer dark.