by Mark J. Mitchell
                After Shostakovich,
Quartet #15 in E flat minor Op.144
“Music has the great advantage of being able to tell everything without mentioning anything."
                                                                                                 --Ilya Ehrenberg
I.      Elegy
Ashes trapped in mirrors—cool dust
Draped—redundant—over crisp glass.
You reach—with slow fingers—closing
Hollow notes. Everything escapes.
Everything flees and your cool touch
Falls hollow. There’s no thing to last—
Fingers forget hard knowing—
Low notes—brittle—disturb the drapes.
Disturbed, you pause. Exhale. Adjust
Your glasses. Mirrors draped in black
Don’t fit. Smoke curls down—your coat rings—
Buttons fall—frayed threads tease your nape.
Teased, reflected memories clutch
Space and fold time—it’s not your past
Now. Shards—no longer fragile—bring
Dust to light. Open windows gape.
Open darkness conjures your trust—
Expels secrets from broken flasks.
Someone is gone—No one’s going—
A mirror—here—framed in flat crepe.
II.     Serenade
                        Caught by a locket’s ghost—
                        Kept captive by milk glass—
                        You are no longer seeing
                        Time—just a broken plate
                        Dusted with silver—lost—
                        A camera long past
                        Light—beyond capturing
III.    Intermezzo
                        Ink blots dropping from a quavering hand.
                        Today they might carry music. They might
                        Leave notes. Mostly they make for ruined white
                        Pages. Something to clutter music stands.
IV.     Nocturne
                That shelf’s slipped its mooring—eluding dust,
                Tilting books down and left—That mirror’s cracks
                Are ancient—black behind silver, blooming
                Lost faces, empty names. The sad shattered plates
                Belong to someone’s mother. Soon, you must
                Hand them back. Dim those lights—put off each task
                For now. We hide no questions—no brooding
                Mysteries—just cool tea, time and earthquakes.
V.      Funeral March
Adagio Molto
                        A train slides along cool tracks. Crushed
                        Cinders bounce between ties. Trees pass—
                        Their staccato shadows carving
                        Light into a code. Steel wheels scrape
                        Steel rails. First class is vacant—dust
                        Inhabits horsehair—in the last
                        Baggage car a box is resting—
                        Sin black—polished—its perfect shape—
                        Long and deep—makes room—only just—
                        For an absent body—sleek—fast
                        On this clicking journey—bearing
                        No one to where there’s no escape.
VI.     Epilogue
Adagio—Adagio Molto
                Days are as merciless as rust—
                Flaking away—forming years—pass
                The oil can. You must keep moving
                Or die—ignore your pain and scrape
                The oxide free. That photo—retouched—
                Again—off-gray, hidden by glass
                Rests on your bookcase obscuring
                A metronome you couldn’t break—
                Its beat still regular, if hushed
                Tonight. Go ahead and unmask
                The mirrors. Give up the nervous cleaning—
                Your glasses will never be clear. It’s late:
                Close the cabinet doors—do not adjust
                The locket, shift the page. Your tired past
                Wants rest. There’s nothing left here reflecting—
                Just empty sound—low notes—falling away.

0 thoughts on “LATE QUARTET

  1. Magnificent idea. Too much to comment on right off, but we can come back to it. A few words. It invites listening to the Shostakovich, which I’m not familiar with. It seems like the quote is cut off. “Without mentioning”…it/everything? This must have something to do with the poem; either it is doing the same (telling without mentioning) or it is trying to describe the experience of the quartet. Are the “attacca”‘s cut off? Also, be careful with the hyphens (-); they could be either hyphens or dashes (–). The first lines may read “Ashes trapped in mirrors–cool dust draped-redundant–over crisp glass.”
    The poem shifts between mirrors and glass–reflection and seeing–both of which are dirty and can’t ever be cleaned; and elements of music–notes, beats. On this read, I think it’s dealing with perception and memory, and how the flawed former makes the latter fall away, to a death that is mindless. Need rereading. Needs rereading.

  2. Listened to part of the Shostakovitch quartet. Mournful. Read about it. It’s his last and longest quartet, a meditation on mortality. Adding to my first comments only that art, in this case music, doesn’t keep memory from fading, things from dying. The most cynical view of the artistic endeavor I think comes in the third movement, the intermezzo: the “ink blots” that “mostly…make for ruined white pages. Something to clutter music stands;” the most despondent, the last movement: “Your tired past wants rest. There’s nothing left here reflecting–just empty sound–low notes–falling away.” Most of the quartet’s notes are low, I believe, but I don’t get much more direct correspondence between the quartet and the poem. There may be some to pick up between the funeral march (V) and the funeral train. I like the poem’s clipped voice speaking unconsolably to the reader; the imagery of the glass (es) and mirror(s). I wonder if the lines in the nocturne (IV), “We hide no questions–no brooding mysteries–just cool tea, time, and earthquakes” have historical significance. I’d like to chat with the author.

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