Saturday, September 25, 2004



Hugh is leaving us.

On the Departure of a Vulcanologist who Played a Little Cello on the Side


On the Departure of a Cellist who Did a Little Vulcanology on the Side

Occasional poetry must often content itself with occasional praise

Samuel Johnson

A man who plays the cello should know,
I say
a man who plays the cello ought to know
that the cello can with consummate ease
function equally well as an upright bass
and a man who plays the upright bass
ought to familiarize himself with the bow, you know?

Squeeze noise
out of all possible approaches,
arrange noise
artfully, listen to your ear,
spoon to thigh or mouth harp, shebabit asab's
reedy timbres perfectly evoking the desert sands
of the highlands, passed generation to generation,
as a grain of sand
rolls over the endless dunes I say
a man who clenches centuries of memory
framed in wood and catgut between legs must know
the blues, and a man
who would subject the ears of his friends
to unanswered word-chains
had god-damned better
have something good to say.

We frame, moving across borders, duty-bound,
those we meet in unspoken conceit:
cite nationality or favorite philosophers
as grounds for judgment, marks of self,
the true whole from our point of view
necessarily framed in terms of what is external
as we, framing, are external.

There are, in the average life,
one or two exceptions to this rule.
Or, not exceptions, exactly,
more, bendings, or
not bendings, exactly,
but tweakings,
like the cheek of a Brit schoolboy
in schoolboy trousers
by rough relatives,
maybe more like an ear twisted
by the headmaster, not tweaking,
more warping,
like a cello left out in the rain,
then played, or maybe not warping,
more mutation,
in DNA blind groping through environment
intent on nothing but survival,
but the DNA of idea's evolution which is
not progress,
but mutation adaptation to the prevailing conditions
with the eye of idea toward
surviving the fucking wreck--

all of which brings us back to frames.
That is, you had a life before all this,
before my wife spent a whole party calling you "pom,"
and there's a life after this,
and we who made artful noise with you
between before and after
imagine, the frames of this time
brackets of imagined time
unique to each friend's head.

Me, I mostly see 16-yr. old you laboring w/ face be-zitted & tongue clenched between trembling teeth in concentration as you reached for initial greatness in Dvorak,
or perhaps only greatness in the form of some voluptuous aunt you imagined in the position your then-cello occupied.

I will confess,
I might be off on one or two details.

As for after, I don't know yet
more than just
there will be an after, punctuated,
with a little fortune on both our parts,
by your presence there within that after,
confirming my own illusion or shattering it,
as you will.

For now we have now, what is framed by imagination
feeding that imagination, for now
we have now shining
where you play frisbee with hobbled ankle
trying to catch the disk with a stick,

beer-fueled night conversation on romance and desire understanding
a suitor rejected is still a suitor and shines
like a suitor in anyone's before,
shines like a lover as surely as a lover shines,

and again on streets young girls we pretend not to look at,
then that quiet moment of honesty acknowledging
stunned desire reined in saying, "It's not love,
it's a biochemical reaction to a full set of eggs."

These moments, soon to take on the pale shine of our framed befores,
1000 Euro loans to fund trans-national trip only at the end of which I realized I'd crossed and re-crossed Germany in a 24-hour period,
or later over Guinness minds on money again only this time thinking of KLF and a million pounds up in flame,
the Amnesty International office where we prodded the fax machine to no good end, and read,
or nasty boy Playmobile man, fucking up the girls' plans to the horrified delight of my 7-year-old daughter
who watched Ronia and saw in the rumbling songs of Ronia's father's band of thieves you, rumbling your own unself-conscious song in jerky-limbed dance,
Pop Chomsky, Real Chomsky, Alan Jones and Michael Moore and deep worries and sense of powerlessness in the face of this age's machines,
spooky cello sounds to Laurie Anderson and Leonard Cohen and my own words and "I don't wanna kill my China pig,"
or hovering over images poking not-so-gentle fun
at the naivete
behind some people's proclivities
rhyming "me" and "shun" to the hundred rhymes
presenting themselves in time
lyric misdemeanors or high crimes
don't worry, just let your light shine
and everything will be just fine

And your own deep eye seeing seeking beauty in lichen on rock,
moth on tundra, frozen bubble, knotted tree,
stark opposition of color in nature's smallest detail
and the lines and light of our world
enhanced and brought to our startled attention
by your framing eye...

you know, or you should know,
though it never hurts to be told so,
that though it is never right to speak of loss at time of departure,
when uncertainty makes gain at least as likely,
that in your absence, we lose a little of that sight.

These are my frames:
on one border, that rushed day you spent frantic searching
for an affordable flight to a conference you had to attend
after having missed the bus that morning,
only to arrive at your destination to learn
that your bus was leaving a full day later than you'd thought--
the consternation that caused in you,
and the perfection it signalled in all around you--

on the other, that vision of before
you gave me on one of many late nights,
yourself on a cliff, surrounded by thick fog,
alone and afloat and still perfectly surrounded by this world,
like a seed,
blind dancing on the edge of potential,

and somewhere in between
late hurried walks with rented equipment,
microphone stands perched on shoulders and amplifiers
bungeed to the back of bikes,
ragged guerillas (or maybe just gentle creators)
with joy as their only weapon.

Cello man, I marvel at your movement
as you toss bow aside, pluck the string with a callused finger,
Bach to BTO and back in easy uneasiness,
sure trembling at the edge of the frame,
and traversing this frame,
place my own faith in what you've already shown me,
time and again, in that music--

that moving from one frame
to another
and back
is as simple as willing the matter done,
is done naturally,
and with startling regularity.

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