Poet's Sampler: Stephen Bluestone
Poetry's oldest duty is preservation. The life we live eludes us as we
live it, and when we are old we cannot credit what we have lost -- measured
by the fragments that we keep. Stephen Bluestone's poems do miraculous
things, by force of language directed through his fierce peculiar rhythm;
best, they preserve what they value. Because our civilization loves speed,
change, loss, and forgetfulness, a poet's obligation is also a poet's
opportunity -- to hold and keep, to make a stillness despite noise --
to praise, to celebrate, and to enact endurance. In Stephen Bluestone's
old opera singers, in his "afternoon/on its way into history," and in
his recovered "Circumstances of the Porch," he provides what the age never
demands but deeply requires.
-- Donald Hall
A Circumstance of the Porch
You're in your robe and slippers,
and it's just the Sunday paper
you want, when someone saying
he's your father suddenly slides out
from behind the wheel of a blue
late-model wagon and a woman
calling herself mother waves
from the passenger's side, too
happy to move. The two of them
start unloading bags, gifts, food,
a set of electric trains,
a box of your old toy soldiers.
You can feel the shine coming back
to your face, hear white steeples,
crystal sets, the cheerful man
in the tube talking, the announcer
bringing on comedians or singers
or this week's mystery-installment.
It's a circumstance of the porch.
Say hello. Start talking. Smile.
You've waited all week for this.
We have a few of their voices, Enrico Caruso's
most important of all, but there were others:
Luisa Tetrazzini's, for example, as Gilda,
recorded in 1911. Why do they move us more
than any present sense of who's in the room
with us tonight, or will be, soon enough,
for the usual pleasant talk, for an hour or so?
Is it because theirs are voices never heard before,
coins never counted, paintings never seen,
stone ships on the waves of a watery world,
and we are the last to have known them, the last
to recall the first of the speaking dead?
At least we think there were visits during
which we drank tea, sliced bread on enameled
tabletops; we listened to stories, too,
on sofas with cushions in needlepoint before
fading away into other registers. Not much
else that hasn't slipped away from the easy
hearing of the present, where our children's
children play among their own unfelt sounds.
In the empty houses of the immediate, we try
to entertain them with our natural voices,
small relics of attention, ghosts of bread
and butter, tidbits, we hope, of useful talk.
Say it's snowing on 57th Street on a particular
morning in February, 1904. In a studio
in Carnegie Hall, Caruso is singing an aria
of Donizetti's; he draws out several passages,
and a decision is made to cut two discs,
rather than one. Meanwhile, outside, someone
we once knew, or think we did, boards a trolley
going downtown on Seventh Avenue. Thinking
of nothing at the moment, he watches the curb,
while, at the same time, across the street,
the engineer from Victor Gramophone notes the place
where the second disc starts. Un solo istante,
Caruso sings, an event in wax, an entry in the sum
of all sounds otherwise made but lost. Tonight
we listen to that mezzo-voce as if it were
the last of our flat and scratchy connections
on the turning surface of an old and brittle planet.
Someone's at the door, a surprise.
She has green eyes.
on its way into history,
another surprising afternoon:
the letters of Van Gogh,
a book about the Third Reich,
along with something I'd begun,
half-finished, all sweat,
not one line of truth,
nothing I wouldn't
give up or haven't already given up,
to have this, right now.
What I have is
that bird's nest fern
beside the rocker, cut
irises in the blue swirl vase,
and this company.
Let the music take care of itself.
This is what I have.
This is what I want.
I do, I keep saying,
I do, I do.
"Beethoven Does Not Lie Here"
Franz Schubert's last words
Mornings when he wrote, his hand flawless
across the page, the night's chat at Bogner's Cafe
or the Anchor Tavern yawned like sleep into the
Vienna danced and sang; the brass bands in the Prater,
the organ-grinders, signed themselves in voices.
Like the deaf master whom he loved, he raised
the dark indefinite body of sound up from its
its triple-flesh, finishing what Goethe and Schiller
had only begun, turning flat speech, stiff tropes,
and inadequate rhymes into the poems of poems.
Alpine scores ran through his brain, evenings
of generous accompaniment, and improvised waltzes,
he saw wildflowers dance on a paper field;
carriages crossed the green of his eye; high clouds
bunched in the heavy skies; the chill November
still held his quick flammable ear to the flame.
speed, along with circuits
for escape, elusiveness
in the open field, sure hoofs
for sidetracking, a torso
that can change direction
midair, lyrate horns, coat
with coloring the color
of horizon on the open plain,
along with judgment
quick enough to know danger
an instant before it strikes
from the tall grass
that edges the way to water--
but not useless imagination,
not innocence, not one question
out of its windpipe
that a child might ask,
or a poet move his slow tongue
to answer, unless the sky, too,
were locked in his throat.