A View From the Green Room

[Beth Levin, a regular La Folia contributor, gives solo recitals and appears with chamber ensembles and as an accompanist in the U.S. and abroad. Ed.]

Beth Levin

[May 2003.]

 

I.

When they quiet down,
awaiting the opening chord
like Macbeth’s entrance,
I aim for the heart

where there is no lying.
The onset and the outcome flow,
but my organs are taxed,
the fine for breathing
a blackbird’s air.

They are listening,
always listening.
If Aunt Sada died yesterday
no matter —
this is truly life and death.

For an invisible god,
markings on vellum,
I eat playing,
ride a phrase,
fall at the next corner,
resume course.

My bones are ebony,
My teeth are ivory,
My spine is curved.

The final chord
and they applaud an old woman
besotted by Beethoven,
the notes too small,
she must squint.

I went to the plum stone,
sorted through the black,
offered it up,
let them be the judge.

II.

The Accompanist

I don’t watch for your bow on the string —
I sense the impulse for the downbeat.
I know when the phrase will rise,
when you will breathe,
I know as an inchworm
knows his ground,
every crevice,
every pebble and bottle cap.
I know as a woman of the evening
knows her client’s penchant
for small talk or a caress.

Sometimes I must break out
and lead, show you the pace of things
raise the stakes,
shout and let my hair down.
But in truth not often,
for in this business
I’m a glove, a stocking,
the perfect fit.

III.

Pearls in a velvet pouch
maroon lace to the floor,
a slip of satin,
taffeta t-straps,
lucky, old,
sheerest stockings.
A touch of Worth behind the knee,
a pale face —
powder white, fine,
dark shadow,
blood-red lips.
I prepare to meet my lover —
the stage.

IV.

Green Room

A mirror ringed in G.E. bulbs —
hopped up, I shimmy into
black velvet.
Make-up vials share a dressing table
with crooked hair pins,
faux emerald earrings,
eyes lined in black search the creamy page —
too late for translation.
Air ducts create
an artificial chill,
the air on stage as torrid
as Tangier in August.

V.

After the Recital

Phrases enter and leave,
on the street eyes tear,
I spent it last night —
will, instinct, love.
Anything I had to do,
could do, I did.

Rehearsals were a start,
a stage the true passage,
ff a savage,
pp a ladybug,
motion, music,
music, shape,
my ear, my heart.

Today I am lost,
my bones like rotted wood,
a bath, a rose, a call…
the climb longer and longer,
the downslide quick.

VI.

Diary

I’m in the groove now
the piano bench once a safe perch,
I’m out of the tree, flying,
giving birth, opening old wounds,
unafraid, ahum, testing.
My love is beyond defect,
a bird’s call like a cantor in shul,
your black eyes,
a ball of rubber bands like muscles
conform to a shape but may snap.

I’m in it now —
you wouldn’t believe how the dark chocolate
melted vanilla on my plate,
the wine ecstasy
and the rain came down.
Under the surface so many sounds,
old faux pas
moments of elation and death —
after a while one lives with
the growth of algae.

Fish off Santa Monica pier,
wish you were here
my horoscope read,
the sepia lines of Da Vinci,
the strains of Bach
drew me in
the wet streets,
cabs, buses, trains,
If I rant it is because
I can’t sort the details,
I can’t explain myself.

VII.

Time in the afternoon
of a sonate —
how it sways, lurches, demurs!
Rhythm divided by three,
by four, by seven,
strict but with a human pulse.
Accelerando — the chase is on,
Ritenuto — I lean against a tree,
Rubato rides meter
like a snake on dry land,
Mimi’s dying breath in a rest,
the next beat, Otello’s footsteps.
A lark in flight,
haunting us from Chopin’s dreams.

VIII.

On Listening to Mozart

When sound stirs me so
I must hold on
or fear falling,

when I strain to hear
such fragile tones
finished lives
repeat themselves,

when poetry walks
a melodic line
harmony, a noble course,

Then I have witnessed
perfect fission,
felt Time shift,
and everything
my heart knew
is in question.

IX.

My bones are heavy,
gravity pulls me towards the floorboards,
the sneering beast jeers,
“Do you think the sonate will learn itself?”

Perhaps I need to boil water,
make soup,
brew coffee,
swallow vitamins,
call home.

Isn’t that a lovely jay?
the sun warming this day for others,
those walking freely, whistling in the street.

“Help!” I call,
“Relieve me! Trade places!”
I open the window, gulp April air…
but Time is wasting.

 

[More Beth Levin]