Balkan Snapshots

[Beth Levin, a regular La Folia contributor, recently spent three weeks in the former Yugoslavia performing and teaching piano under the sponsorship of the United States State Department and Poetica Musica, a chamber-music group based in New York City. Ms. Levin performed 14 concerts throughout the Balkans including Belgrade, Sarajevo, Zagreb and Bucharest and gave numerous master classes along the way. Ed.]

Beth Levin

[March 2004.]

 

I.

In Serbia the men like tall cypress
still standing after bombs
Strangers’ eyes accuse me
but at the high school
children take their mothers’ struggle
and put it to music
I am welcome
the questions fast, needy
every phrase of the mazurka
racing into the future

Zagreb, The Palace Hotel, 2/28/04

 

II.

In Sarajevo sadness flows like the thick, dark coffee
staining one’s skin
Beneath that the unspeakable wounds
People laugh, tell jokes
go to prayer, wear stylish coats
but the bombed bridges go unrepaired
the trees-stumps
families vanished
What do I know of this kind of suffering
All I can do is listen to the shadow in the art
the way it inverts itself into
one pure phrase of Mozart

Zagreb, The Palace Hotel, 2/28/04

 

III.

Not long ago in a Serbian province
her name drew fans from miles around
the opera house her home
the seamstress aware of exactly
the strength of silk needed
to support her waist, her bust
fitted for the finest wigs
The conductor transposed down
gave her time at the top of her high B
When she stepped onstage, the hush
the moment expectant, extolling

These days she sits
at the back of the house
when a soprano on tour passes through town
her sighs of disdain
a signal to the audience
to temper their praise
a reminder of the genuine article
the Diva of Novi Sad

Zagreb, The Palace Hotel, 2/28/04

 

IV.

At the music academy
students peek into the room
and soon I have a class of five
Their teacher walks with a cane
her eyes witty, sad
as if knowing many ghosts
their penchants
She says culture has been crushed in Sarajevo
I see the place where a bomb tore a hole
in the building
Imana arrives out of breath
fresh from the mosque
She plays Beethoven for me
I tell her everything I know
I tell her what she already knows inside
calling it up
reminding her of truths she owns
such is the way
She gives me her email
Imana@theedgeoftheworld

Zagreb, The Palace Hotel, 3/1/04

 

V.

Dear Andrija, your young face
yet already you pet
the keyboard tenderly
Your parents rebuild the music school at Pakrac
half a town
the horses scattered to save them from the fires
pink dwellings replace
the bleak shells that stand like tombs
The door to your home
welcomes me with bells

Pakrac, 3/3/04

 

VI.

Week three, Bucharest
my impulses and I are tired
but the grace of the embassy
coaxes a good performance
the ivory keyboard
carved legs
rooms of antiques
my shantung skirt sweeping the floor
a young girl’s voice in master class
like cognac
born of dark history, soil, tradition
It renews me for the final leg

Bucharest, Palace Hilton, 3/4/04

 

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