Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Two of My Piano Preludes Redux

I had posted both of these piano pieces before, but I did not yet have the ability to make the right-hand part play at a different volume than the left-hand part, so it sounded kind of mechanical, with chords "hammering." Now I have fixed that, and these two pieces sound pretty much the way I play them myself.

The Prelude in F Minor is another of my miniature preludes, as short as some of the Chopin Preludes. I fancy that a beginning piano student might enjoy playing this, as it has plenty of gloom and makes a big noise without requiring any technique whatever. I can imagine ten-year-olds terrifying the cat with it.
The F Minor Prelude Reposted Yet Again

The Prelude-Fantasia in G Major was a one-page, one-theme Prelude from 1968 that I expanded in 2003, varying the theme and adding a chorale-like statement of it with bare chords hanging in the air, making me think somewhat of last Liszt. I've tried this on electronic pianos where the several dissonant chords sound quite eerie, but on even a slightly-out-of tune traditional piano, these chords might bring mice and spiders from the woodwork. This was composed at the piano and then entered note by note manually into Finale.

Listen to the G Major Prelude-Fantasia

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Lines Overheard at The Russian Tearoom

As The Russian Tea Room says about itself: "For over eighty-five years, New York's defining cultural moments have taken place at Russian Tea Room. Ever since members of the Russian Imperial Ballet founded the restaurant in 1927, it has been a second home for boldface names and the intellectual elite-an exclusive enclave where actors, writers, politicians, and businessmen planned their next deals and feted their friends' latest Carnegie Hall performances."

Ludmilla’s got herself a husband.
It doesn’t matter that you’re stupid
if you can dance en pointe. —

The tables are so close here:
There’s Donald Trump.
Three tables down, that model
from all the magazines.
That dowager between
with that look on her face?
The poor man can’t count. —

Ya piu nad razorenni dom.
(I drink to our ruined house).
Why did we have to build it
in Florida? —

It was, of course,
a Jewish conspiracy. —

There is no evidence.
Besides, we already have
the green cards for everyone. —

So we played. We knew the music.
He stood there waving his stick.
He was two beats behind us
and never knew the difference. —

No one finds the bodies.
No one. They say he keeps
the eyeballs. He pickles them. —

I have a friend at Coney Island.
For you, he will fix everything. —

Ignore the news, Sergei.
Everything goes
the way we planned it. —

How many people here
would stop dead-track
if I said “Moose and Squirrel?”

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Afternoon Walk through Downtown Pittsburgh

I walked nine miles today and took 213 photos. The walk started and ended in downtown Pittsburgh. You can see some of them in this Flickr album.
Brett's Afternoon Walk in Pittsburgh Photo Album

Union Trust Building

The Gothic gingerbread atop the Union Trust Building gives little clue to what is inside: a classic lobby with an atrium that goes all the way up to the top of the building. It looks like some kind of video game, but this is real.
You can see all the photos I took on my Flickr page.
Brett's Flickr Page for Union Trust

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

One Night in Cyprus

This is a story I have waited decades to tell. One night in 1974 I had an intense dream, in which I was inside another person's mind and body. I was on the island of Cyprus, escaping by night from an unspecified peril. This poem relates the dream, exactly as it occurred. By the end of the next day, the world knew that a Greek junta-led coup had taken over Cyprus, and its Greek leader, Archbishop Makarios, had fled. These events led to a Turkish invasion and the permanent partition of Cyprus.

On the back of a truck
hurtling without headlamps
on a moonlit night on Cyprus,
the archbishop sat, cross-legged.
He saw great silhouettes of cedar trees
and overhanging crags black-edged,
an open sky of fierce and unnamed stars —
stars whose names he’d never learned,
though Greek and Arab astronomers
had classed and ordered them,
hard-tracing beasts and maidens,
hunters and bears, cup-bearers loyal
to the rampant, seducing cosmos,
now a mere tapestry for Christ’s passing.
Now he, a mariner without sail or star
had put his trust in strangers (strangers
who came from god and might be god),
hidden like thief beneath a flapping tarp,
a lump among fogs and onions
inhaling the incense of root earth.

The driver stopped, the men
invisible to him in the truck cab
came ’round to lift the tarp. He winced.
You may stretch your legs, Father.
We have reached the peak —
So far no sign of any soldiers.
We’ll send a scout ahead on foot,
the crossroads below a last point
of danger we’ll be stopped and captured.
He nodded, thanked and blessed them,
his hand making the crossroads sign
as he thought of the feared places
where Hecate was summoned and fetuses
buried. Thus one always shuddered at crossroads.
He walked to road-edge. If ever a prayer
was called for, it was now. No altar, no walls.

The arched cedar tree cupped praying hands,
the slope was dotted with flowers —
what color, the asphodel at midnight?
He said some words, not for himself at first,
then for himself, for so much depended
on his getting out and away, to save the country.
But where, in dark night, did prayers go?

* * *
I never knew you. I never heard of you.
I have never seen Cyprus, and yet the dream
that seized me was realer than real.
I felt the pain of your bones, I sighed your sigh
as you knelt and prayed. I did not grasp the words
or the language in which they were uttered.
Yet my self watching myself dreaming told me:
this is Cyprus, and this is happening.
Your prayer, for whatever cause, rose not to heaven:
it came to me, an atheist, and half a world away.

You fled the Greek-led coup on Cyprus, a hunted man,
and you escaped that night; you flew to London.
You returned to endure a Turkish invasion.
Your statue stands in Nicosia.
Why you, why me, Archbishop Makarios?

Wartime Fragment


was this a just war, an old men’s war?
a war of merchants who wanted their weapons used
so that the great treasures of two kingdoms passed|
o, into their hands, Vulcan’s malevolent sons?

O the why and wherefore of war, what reckoning
your heirs will make of it, beside a ruined tomb!

Nero and the Flamingo

He is the Emperor
of the known universe:
Rome, that is,
and of every place
worth having.

The gods are best pleased
by ever-more-exotic
No lowly chickens here
in Rome whose temples
all but outstrip Olympus.
Give up the cattle to Jove,
and to that upstart Mithra;
meek lambs and smelly rams
fit only for Judean
hecatombs. No,
only the best for Nero,
the whole menagerie
if need be, to assure
his eventual,
glorious godhood.

Today he picks a stately
bird, a solitary feeder
that keeps to its own corner
in a flush of pink feathers.
Hook-nose wary,
it is a half-arm taller
than his Centurions.
He waits at the altar.
It is all legs and beak,
draws blood from the priests
as they hold it down.
Nero approaches
with the drawn blade,
intones the prayer,
slashes the place
where gangly neck
and pink body converge.

The head comes off.
The body leaps up
and out of the priest-hold,
spurts blood
all over Nero’s toga.
No one moves; no one utters
a syllable; all of Rome’s heart
skips a beat. Crowds part
as the headless horror,
runs out and down the temple steps,
across the plaza, a blood Aetna
bespattering the paving stones.
Crowds part for its passing
until it reaches the Tiber
and plunges in.

The Emperor stands,
the knife in hand,
his toga bloodied, ruined.
The priests avert their eyes.
Centurions watch
as less-than-god hands
wipe blood on white linen;
they look at one another
and with a not-quite smile,
the same thought occurs
to each of them.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Variations on the Ibis

Artists are people to whom coincidence
adheres, filings to their magnet consciousness.
My painter friend Riva points out
a small montage, a hulking splotch
with linked chains and a few squiggles.
“It won some prizes,” she tells me,
“But as for what it means —“ she shrugs.
My eyes reel into its story-window:
I see Prometheus chained, a Grand Inquisitor
in purple robes, and there, the white wings
of the gloating Zeus-eagle. “I can write this,”
I tell her. “Take it,” she said.

Another time she shows me an etching,
a crinolin’d ghost shape a-dance
before a barren landscape. It sits
the bottom-most discard in a bottom drawer.
“That is the Empress Carlota!” I cry,
“And that is Queretaro where Maximilian died.”
So off I went and wrote a play.

On a graveyard walk she stops, leans down
and picks up a squashed shard, some scrap
of one car’s fender run over by another.
“I’ll make something of this,” she told me.
I carry it home in my bag, then place
it absent-mindedly on dresser-top.
Months later, she visits and spies it,
atop a wood frame. I pick it up
to hand it back to her. Our eyes dance
upon the seeming-shapeless object,
and then to what’s inside my glass-framed box:
the Indonesian fruit-bat I nicknamed “Claudius.”
The shape of the found object precisely fills
the silhouette of the preserved fruit bat.
We smile. This is how the universe works us.

Small wonder, then, that I am reading Egypt,
the lore of Thoth and Hermes, his totem
animals the Lower Kingdom’s lordly ibis,
the Upper Kingdom’s wise baboon,
when tea with Riva reveals a water color
mystery, a scimitar shape emerging
from a blue-gray mist, a river fog,
a scythe, perhaps, with a hand to weild it.
“No!” I said. “It is upside-down.”
And there, in lordly solitude,
stood the Egyptian ibis. I have it still.
Riva is gone, her mind first, and then her body,
the ka and the ba on out-of-kilter journey
across to the Land of Reeds in the West.
So now the ibis panting is in its place
at my compound shrine of Hermes-Thoth:
the ibis with kneeling scribe before it,
the ibis-headed god himself in sculpture;
the sacred baboon;
the head of Hermes; two small pyramids,
a hippo, and The Book of Coming Forth by Day.

I asked a Greek who’d been to Egypt,
an Alexandrian admittedly, about the ibis.
“Don’t mention ibises! Those filthy birds,
worse than the legendary Harpies, be sure.
Not just the stately water-strider
you see in those temple scrolls — no!
Packs of them in every garbage heap,
fish-trash and butcher dumping place.
They eat what jackals would scorn to swallow.
They eat anything! They gorge themselves
until their innards can take no more —
guts forty yards long, I can assure you —
until they’re fat as a pampered goose.
The ibis knows no repose from gluttony:
stuffed full, they go off to the water.
Then, cheeks and bill blown up,
they give themselves water enemas.
The stench amid the reeds
is not to be believed.
No one will eat an ibis, I tell you,
and fishermen at night have seen them
beak to belly in oral copulation
(You can look it up in Strabo, too!
I’m not making this up.)
Now what this says about the priests of Thoth,
those ibis-headed ministers
and their mystery rites
is best left to the imagination.
Would you eat at table with a man
who had such habits? One cup
his lips had touched could fell a village.
I’m not one to leap to conclusions
but I prefer my gods sunny, Greek, and clean.”

Autumn of the Oligarchs

What if all the awful things that are happening are exactly what the one percents wants to happen, including near civil war and a nuclear "accident?" Here is my latest, and gloomiest poem in the series "Anniversarius: The Book of Autumn." It is satire, but in satire there is often a sad kernel of truth. Some people really wouldn't mind ending civilization, if "their kind" survived.


Come September,
those dirty brown oak leaves
tumbling around like homeless persons
are not acceptable here.
Oak-leaf clusters, preserved and dried
in tones of cheerful red and orange
will make a suitable display
for our early-harvest luncheon.
The noise is worth it — those tawny Mexicans
leaf-blowing till every last derelict
of maple, birch, alder and sycamore
are hosed and bagged, and tucked away —
worth it to have a picture-perfect lawn
neat as a golf course.

Come October,
and every last leaf will be gone.
The acorns shall have been harvested,
bird-nests removed.

Those pine cones falling like hand-grenades:
one can scarcely keep up with them,
but go they must. The traps shall be set
for the aberrant beaver, the rabbit,
the ever-destructive mole.
As for the birds, the Ornithology Club
has come up with an “approved” list —
we’ll have drones with rifle-shots to cull the rest.
All of our poorer relatives patrol the woods
for deer and fox and all unwanted mammals.
The Approved Cat and her progeny, keep clear
the house and ground of rats, and mice, and voles.
As for the squirrels — anarchists all! — we make
their lives a misery with a pack of Approved Hounds
until we find a way to breed those rodents sterile
(a break-through that will come in handy
as we down-size — just think,
a whole continent all for the taking, all over again,
but I get ahead of myself —

Come November,
green turf, stripped-bare trees like telephone poles,
the grounds secure, the fences electrified,
we’ll settle in for the fall and winter.
There will be inconveniences, of course.
Next to the martini, an iodine tablet.
Old Master paintings all moved to a solid bunker
(Best of the Met slipped out by sleight-of-hand);
the dinosaurs and those quaint old dioramas
of Arctic and African species (fakes all in Manhattan
as long ago we stealthed away the originals).
Deep in a cave we have the best of the best
and we can visit any time, on trips to the vaults
where we’ve moved all our solid assets.
When things calm down, the missiles spent
and the Geiger-counter clicks are down to drip-drop;
when the cities are cleansed and the suburbs leveled —
just you wait for the turkey day to end all turkey days.
Done by Thanksgiving, the generals assured us,
just the one percent (us) and about five percent (them),
the ones we chose. By God, we’ll have stuffing,
cigars and brandy by the fireplace, a starry night.

Come December,
sure as hell it’ll be a White Christmas.


I wish I had just dreamt this, but I saw it on YouTube. White supremacy, from Mom.


Trailer park slattern, blonde,
      holds close two flax-haired children.
“We need another genocide,”
      she says to the camera,
more opioid mama than Viking
      shield maiden.
“You know that means killing?”
      the reporter asks.
She nods. “I know. We need
      to have another genocide.” —
“You know that means killing women,
      and all their children with them?” —
Her eyes drop, then raise. “I know that.” —
      “So why do we need another genocide?” —
“Them!” she shouts, pointing at progeny,
      “So my children will have a chance.”
Husband, off camera: “That’s my woman.
      Ain’t she something?”


The hand extended to an innocent child,
the hand snapped back; the slap
back-handed, the raised club,
the road-side stop, the knock
three times at the midnight door.
Dark-celled without a lawyer,
then bused to a border, and over it.
One hand, with a pen-stroke
(small fingers tweeting), eight
hundred thousand eye-blink exiles.
What list are you on, reader,
and when does your time come?


Death and the Maiden

after the German of Matthias Claudius The Maiden: Pass me by, oh, pass me by! Go, ...