Our Curious Ensemble

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I.

I  round the white marble columns
outside our usual concert hall–
Who will come and play tonight?
The venue rarely changes
but our band always, always does.

A few core members of the band
are already inside tuning the upright bass,
the jazz guitar–preping the place
for tonight’s last concert on tour.

When I reach the piano I remember
how I found Tom, that mind of steel,
coaxing the muses in an abandoned
corner of the Pembroke Library
one late summer evening.

I sit down on the piano bench now
and I remember how concerned
he looked–like Atlas in training–
and how it added extra weight
behind his fingers as the two of us
began to play out a tune called–
“Do you believe you were born
for greatness?”

II.

I look up from the ivory keys–
alone now on the bench, I watch
as the others start strumming in:
Carlee & David, Lucas & Alynne,
our sax trio: Bryan, Peter, and Dallin,
Alynne & Katie clearing their pipes.
I wonder where the others are . . .

Nathan takes bass, Matt saddles the drums
Michelle assembles her clarinet
while we wait for the Maucotel duo
to complete our simple ensemble
of good people and good music.

Our concerts rarely start on time, but then again,
there’s no audience to impress but ourselves,
no managers to appease; the ticket of admission–
a curious mind and a friend to introduce you.

Usually before we begin
we wave a thank you to our
snow-bearded friend behind
the all-powerful sound board.
He’s a miracle worker you know.

Once we’ve circle round, we look at our
reflections in each other’s dark shades.
We nod in unison, the music begins.
A song of unscripted expression–a musical
masterpiece forms like audible blown glass–

Embers spark from strings:
questions to confessions,
epiphanies and soliloquies
flickering like fire flies
from a flaming heart.

Each instrument, each individual
shapes the instrumental conversation,
high-class harmonies and rhythms
sway inside swimming melodies.

Soon the solos start–impromptu blues or banter–
I laugh deep and low , tiptoeing those
tarnished peddles. Hold it. Hold it, hold that laugh
inside and out. My smile says, I love this band.

I remember that I have a heart cause it beats,
I remember I am a song cause I ask:
“Can one musician change the world?”

III.

The tone shifts, the lights dim,
and the melody slows. It’s time. . .
time to just keep rhythm
and listen to another soul speak;
time to sit on my hands a measure
or pace around the grand piano.

Our song ends and we take our bows as
the stage hands shoo us off our pedestal
at midnight and lock the door behind us.
But they can’t muffle our music. We play
our songs on the steps, in cars, in our hearts–
We can’t stop. And standing here on an empty
stage I can’t stop asking myself–

What do you say to someone
who leaves behind empty instruments
and hollow seats in a broken circle?
I am alone on the piano bench,
writing this poem in my head,
asking these questions to myself:

How could they abandon their places?
Who will come in their stead?

This wasn’t just another jam session–not tonight.
Sure we’ll have a reunion; sure the tour will
start up again next fall, but for a handful
of us this was their final bow on stage together.

It’s their time do a solo tour through Norway,
Croatia or Guatemala. It’s the next step for them,
I understand, but that doesn’t answer my question–

How do you enshrine air? It was full of questions
you see, not just the music recorded in retrospect,
but the uncertainty of the moment, in the air
and in our fingers.  The questing question marks
before they were spine straightened like a ruler
into a quarter notes and caesuras. Tell me please
because it was intellectually intoxicating:
the hazy lights harboring laughter
mixed with silent musings, unspoken but understood.

I hear the others calling for me outside,
an unofficial bandleader, so I call it a night.
I round those same familiar marble pillars
so happy to see the sight below. The smiles are
irreplaceable, but then again, so is every moment,
every instrument, every person in this ensemble.

On our sojourn into the night I finally remember
the name of the tune humming in my ear.
The melody and the lyrics come into focus
because it’s the same tune that the band whistles
as we carry on and carry eachother into the night.

I smile to myself because it is the same tune
that began on a  late summer evening
in a library across the sea–
the one we’ll be remembered for called:
“Can a band of thinkers change the world?”

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