Monday, January 17, 2011

The Accompanist

I loved today's poem.  Especially the line "it's partly/sexual but it's mostly practice/and music," which is true about classical music praxis too.

Don't play too much, don't play
too loud, don't play the melody.
You have to anticipate her
and to subdue yourself.
She used to give me her smoky
eye when I got boisterous,
so I learned to play on tip-
toe and to play the better half
of what I might. I don't like
to complain, though I notice
that I get around to it somehow.
We made a living and good music,
both, night after night, the blue
curlicues of smoke rubbing their
staling and wispy backs
against the ceilings, the flat
drinks and scarce taxis, the jazz life
we bitch about the way Army pals
complain about the food and then
re-up. Some people like to say
with smut in their voices how playing
the way we did at our best is partly
sexual. OK, I could tell them
a tale or two, and I've heard
the records Lester cut with Lady Day
and all that rap, and it's partly
sexual but it's mostly practice
and music. As for partly sexual,
I'll take wholly sexual any day,
but that's a duet and we're talking
accompaniment. Remember "Reckless
Blues"? Bessie Smith sings out "Daddy"
and Louis Armstrong plays back "Daddy"
as clear through his horn as if he'd
spoken it. But it's her daddy and her
story. When you play it you become
your part in it, one of her beautiful
troubles, and then, however much music
can do this, part of her consolation,
the way pain and joy eat off each other's
plates, but mostly you play to drunks,
to the night, to the way you judge
and pardon yourself, to all that goes
not unsung, but unrecorded.

"The Accompanist" by William Matthews, from Foreseeable Futures. © Houghton Mifflin, 1987.


Rodak said...

William Matthews is a favorite of mine. This poem spoke to me particularly in the lines:

"...When you play it you become
your part in it, one of her beautiful
troubles, and then, however much music
can do this, part of her consolation,
the way pain and joy eat off each other's

lissla lissar said...

That's wonderful. Thank you.

Pentimento said...

This is the first poem I've read by him. I really liked that part too, Rodak.

Rodak said...

I once wrote a poem inspired by Bessie Smith. If interested, you can <a href="> read it here.</a>

Melanie B said...


I love the line: "the way pain and joy eat off each other's plates,"

Pentimento said...

Yeah, that's a good one.

Pentimento said...

I like the poem, Rodak. The repetition reminds me not only of twelve-bar blues form but also of Robert Lax, who you recently introduced me to.

Rodak said...

Thanks. I see that I screwed up creating a link there. I'm rusty, I guess.

Ronald Rabenold said...

I caught just the tail end of this poem yesterday on NPR...Coincidence or is that why you posted it? I was also struck by the same line, "pain and joy eat off each other's plates." Blew me away. I've been pondering that line for 24 hours now...I enjoy your site...will be back...I post mainly history on my site but some of my own poetry...I laced that concept into two poems since yesterday!... What brought you to post it yesterday???

Pentimento said...

Welcome, Ronald. I missed the radio slot, but The Writer's Almanac is my web browser's home page, and I often post poems from the site that impressed me.

Pentimento said...

By the way, your blog looks fascinating. I'm going to spend some time digging around on it as soon as I get the chance.

Clare Krishan said...

"the just man justices"
or 'on vocalizing vocation'

spotted it (for the same reason you noticed yours, I use QuaereDeum as a daily pickmeup - I'm an eye candy kinda girl tho' if I recall I found it linked at the Image blog)

As music plucks the cochlear hairs
poesy plucks the heart strings, no?

Pentimento said...

Yes! Thank you, Clare!