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  • Classical Poem
  • Matthew Dickman

I'm listening to a symphony where heroes and villains are still alive. Not a soundtrack of soldiers parachuting into occupied Belgium but spies in pinstripes. Not a dark forest lit up by gunfire and the wild eyes of a lost elk but a dark alley, a cobblestone alley, an alley where important documents are being passed between the black leather gloves of important men near a window where a barmaid is pouring beer into dirty glasses. It's the kind of music to make love to a tall skinny woman who works all day at the public library, her breasts roaring like the two lions outside. It's what I imagine astronauts are listening to inside their helmets while they watch a new planet begin to spin, and then another and another like notes from a cello until the night sky looks like an aquarium, full of the mystical and unreal. Space dust floating through a dark channel, a movable space relaxing into itself. I'll tell you [End Page 139] the composer's name is Valentin Silvestrov and I know as much about him as the umbrella I bought yesterday knows about me. The radio program says that this is the music of existential metaphor, silent songs, which I do understand. I have them all the time. When I first saw your feet, for instance. The curve and bright white of them. The time you walked into my room wearing your father's El Dorado hat and said, I am not my father. This is not his hat. Well, I thought, you must be suffering and it was life, the crestfallen drive-thru, that was making you cry. But it was me. And I'm no one in particular. I'm certainly not Valentin Silvestrov living in '80s Berlin, all the West like a giant carrot dangling in the blue sky and Rilke's angels haunting him, following him into the bathroom at night, waiting for him on the street after someone the composer knew had died and it had, for this to be classical, begun to snow. Heroes and villains killing each other in half and quarter notes. Valentin putting on his greatcoat with a rip in the lapel. Walking out toward the traffic. Walking home and eventually lying down, like all of us, in the well-made, unbearable, bed.



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pp. 139-140
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