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AN OCCURRENCE OF GRACE AT A BARTOK CONCERT/George Looney This concerto could cripple a sky. The woman m the wheelchair wants her voice to be the viola and, for a moment, it is. Beautiful, its guttural tone, from enough distance, could be mistaken for the rosined scrape of the bow. What is love for this woman, her hands demented buzzards flapping in her lap, her body a kind of grave carnival-mirror imitation of a body? Without enough control to form words, her mouth has gone slack, a bitter cavern, the acoustics no consolation. Music's impossible without pain, a dead composer said alive. If he was right, this woman's crippled body could be the most beautiful quartet ever composed for strings, unplayable, perfection no one living can appreciate. No one has heard the viola In her voice before. At the beginning of this century, she'd have been The Missouri Review · 69 doUed up in scales, and factory workers, their drab wives left home, would have paid pennies to see her flap around In a shallow pool, the Fish-Woman. They'd have heard whales In her voice, seaweed and rust, not Bartók. Those vain hawkers of deformities, who charged men to touch suffering flesh masqueraded as mystery, weren't interested Ui grace. Their shrill voices are too often ours. The man who wheels this woman away from the music, to stop her voice, has Ufted her out of water, loving how her body clutches itself, the spine a fist closing, knuckles white down her twisted back. Has he come to think love's a freak show, a necessary complement to the light bulbs, accordions and laughter of wavy figures Ui warped glass? The carnival, without it, drifting between towns, no one believing its loud insistence that joy exists? Has he drawn petroglyphs on her flesh with his tongue, like those on rocks in the Southwest, long dead voices still loving the earth 70 · The Missouri Review George Looney in translation? Is her body any more crippled than any of us brought to our knees by this concerto? Is music loss we can bear because of its beauty? The heart isn't something we speak of these days. Nothing consoles us, it turns out. Still, the most crippled body is capable of more joy than any dead composer. And this music risen, warped, out of this woman could bring any sky to its knees. The way buzzards, In flight, from a distance, can define grace. George Looney The Missouri Review · 71 RIFFS THELONIUS PUT DOWN/ George Looney The landscape here is flat enough to drive turkey buzzards to circle where nothing's dead. Some howl Ui my body says, home. Everything is how I left it—a player piano gutted, abandoned. Memory is a map folded up wrong, streets dead-ending Ulto the legend of a place blank from drought. The fronts of the few stores open downtown, rough as any weather, could bluff a pair of deuces to the moon and back, Ufe over the stores a dull tale of debt and weeping mistaken for the duff of laughter, nothing you'd want to walk on. Over the bar, sober and fatalistic ghosts of veterans dance to riffs Thelonious put down. Light at dusk is a flush, a hand hard to beat. The stoic moon holds its face cards, hoping for a high straight. It's too pale to get anyone to fold. The veterans who won't dance play poker, a heartache or better to open. Down Ui the bar, whiskey reminds me, sad, where the bodies are buried. "Straight, No Chaser," howls out the jukebox. Tone-deaf ghosts scrape a piano Ui need of tuning over the floor upstairs. Down the bar, a drunk woman 72 · The Missouri Review signs blurred sentences, her once deft hands dancing for rain. Rough weather's forgotten this town, the sky mute. A sax has taken up what Monk and his blunt fingers laid out on a piano so sober it couldn't even bluff a straight. Tm so much In the hole no one hand could puU me out, not even Monk's. This the last...


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