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Baton with Tip Missing

Maestro Bernstein is teaching the dead to perform.
Being gone from the past is not to be freed of it,
but no Messiah, Prokofiev, Stern, Copeland
Gould. It’s time to decide, he says at the end
of the break, whether orchestra and song and dance
can be beautiful on the sharp slope of after-
life without the innocence of new voices,
without their rag-and-bone hunger for balance
and uncertain desire, without the flea-
market politics of reviewers fretting
like nerves on the other side of endlessness

He auditions only those who worked with him
before, excluding those who needed to watch
the page and didn’t look up, especially
brass players. Everyone rehearses
Candide and West Side Story
without a score, without his playing or singing
along, but his lips still mouth the music,
his left hand harrows wanton hair,
the ivory baton still reaches higher
than the highest note

                                    And he’s found a Maria.
Back there everyone said she looked
herself and that her last wish had been
for her surviving son to make a decent
living and not sleep the day away
and slouch forth into the sweet-sour
of night air like the long-backed rats
that had lost their fear of her. She says now
the only shoes she wears grip any surface,
and she may not suspect he chose her mainly
because of her range, how rapidly she learns
the music, how she follows his hands, which never stop
her, how she hits every note flawlessly
with or without accompaniment as if
she’s always known her part, every detail,
although her body couldn’t master desertion
and she can’t imagine a famous conductor
with a damaged baton, the tip missing,
all the rehearsals in another room
without echoes, all the times
it was brought down hard

©Leonard Neufeldt. Painting Over Sketches of Anatolia (Signature Editions, 2015)

 

 

   

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