Poetry Dispatch No. 44 | December 26, 2005
Brahms’ Capriccio in C Major, Opus 76, No. 8 by Bill Holm
All this lonesome fall I practice Brahms, mooning over a faraway woman, while my fingers twist around this constipated soulful counterpoint. Day after day of gray drizzle, both in October and inside the piano. I don’t even like this music and haven’t touched a note of it for years.
Tonight, I remember when I played it last; it was the melanoma ward of a huge gray hospital, a whole hallway chock full of the doomed. An old upright piano sat in the sun room, where I waited day after gray drizzly spring day for news I had already gotten inside. I had only Brahms along, and he seemed all right, so I practiced playing and grieving together, conscious of the one, avoiding the other.
Up and down the hall walked glucose bottles attached to bodies. All over those bodies, black holes in the skin sucked up life and energy, burrowing inside from eye, back, hand, cheek, slow black bullets whose trajectory stopped only when they found a brain or liver to explode.
“A nasty disease,” the Chinese neurosurgeon said. “We don’t know what causes it. Perhaps the sun . . . Probably the sun . . .”
Maybe gray drizzly north German counterpoint so dense the sun can’t make its way inside could slow it down a little.
Without much hope for either music or survival down this hall, I practice Capriccios and Intermezzos that old Brahms probably composed while his own black holes ate at his liver. One day, I sit bungling through something in C Major when a young boy with freckles, red hair, and a glucose bottle slides noiselessly into the sun room and listens. He claps weakly when I finish, and I turn around. The glucose bottle still wobbles on its iron stand, the plastic tube trembling.
He is my color, could be my brother, but he is thin, pale, dying, and I am fat, flushed, full of angry life.
“I always wanted to play the piano,” he said.
“Do it!” I said. “It’s a great joy to play.”
“Did it take you long to play so well?” he asked.
“Oh, not long at all!” I said. “Just practice all you can.”
Then with a weak excuse, I left the sun room, went and sat next to my mother’s bed and wept, because I had lied, and because I knew what happened in this world as inexorably as Brahms’ ruthless logical contrapuntal knots tied and untied themselves around the human ear.
For twelve years, I forgot those Capriccios and Intermezzos, and neither lied nor wept too much. But all this lonesome fall, I practice Brahms again, mooning over a faraway woman I love— no, over two women, one gone out, and the other just come in, the old grief and this new joy so alike inside this music. One brave melody in C, clear and full of leaping rhythm, rears up against a minor tune as if to say: Let everything sing together inside you, lose nothing.
from THE DEAD GET BY WITH EVERYTHING, Milkweed Editions