Saturday, March 31, 2012

The meaning of a word

I was looking to write a poem but this is no age for poems. Who wants to be guilty of throwing more metaphors out into the ether? Poems -- Williams' little machines made out of words -- are behind us. What can you write with machine-made words? Code, often useful, once in a blue moon beautiful. I sit in front of my laptop and move my fingers over the trackpad like a blind man rummaging in a pawn shop for treasures lost to necessity. I click through to a site and while the engine is idling I find myself listening to the fourth movement of Brahms’ first symphony. Thus unlocking a cache of memories I thought I'd cast aside for good. Oh dear lord such music.

Remember the day you told me how long it took Brahms to get up the courage to come out from under Beethoven’s shadow? ‘Poor old Brahms,’ you said. I was out of my league. Blind Lemon Jefferson's 'Black Cat Moan' was more my speed. But I took your word for it. That was the same day you told me that Wagner considered Beethoven’s seventh ‘the apotheosis of the dance’ as we skimmed across the kitchen linoleum in wool socks. It may have even been the same day we tried to sight-read Brahms' Ballade in B and barely got half-way through before someone -- was it George? -- put us out of our misery by serving vodka-and-tonics all around.

We were cooking beef stew on a two burner stove in a subterranean room in upstate New York, waiting for our other friends to bring the wine. We had a cassette tape of Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony playing Brahms and a cheap boom box. It might’ve been raining out. It doesn’t make a difference. I remember it damp, but it was always damp in that place.

Your finger pressed the play button and music filled the room: the rising strings, the falling winds, and the tympani like heart-beats marking time. We got very serious and quiet and then you frowned. The piece slowed and the sound got slurry. The tape must have stretched. Maybe we had kept it too close to the radiator. There was nothing we could do. You looked up, shook your head, and began to laugh. 'Poor old Brahms,' you said. It was pretty funny.

Years later we danced across the Tanglewood lawn to Beethoven's seventh on a clear Sunday in July, surrounded by picnickers and the pure poetry of birdsong. The Stockbridge Bowl shimmered in the distance and New York City a hundred and thirty miles beyond that.

And that’s how I’ve come to remember the meaning of the word ‘apotheosis’ ever since.

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