the blue collection 2: music
(Summer 2012 / 12.19)
featuring Christopher Allen, Walter Bjorkman, Melissa Buckheit, Kathryn Stripling Byer,
James Claffey, Sheldon Lee Compton, Cricket, doris davenport, Cheryl Dodds,
Alexandra Isacson, Alan S. Kleiman, Pamela Johnson Parker,
Amy Small-McKinney, Joan Stepp Smith, Marcus Speh,
Jo Ann Tomaselli, and Kulpreet Yadav
* * *
Erik Satie piano music poem
la la, la la la
la la la la la
Jo Ann Tomaselli
Bottles and Branches
Kathryn Stripling Byer
sing love songs to me
lest you waken the blade
that seeks marrow, my heart’s
that carries me deep
into shady groves where
I hear naught but my own
No dulcimer stringing
its lies, no more wandering
into the dark where I lay
beneath silver leaves dangling
their keys to a door
I saw closing, its light fading
surely as maidenhair weaving
its warnings in vain.
Oh my bridal shroud
now laid aside in the rosewood!
His brazen ring knotted
from wild vine! Don’t ever
again sing me lovesongs
or I’ll snatch the strings from the neck
of your mandolin, I’ll slash
the warp of my mother’s web
winding me fast to her ribside.
Her whet stone. I’ll sharpen
my sorrow till nothing’s left,
nary a spindle of seed sprouting,
mayapple ripening, false
stab of Solomon’s seal rising
out of the leafmold where
never again will I suffer
the pulse in my throat
to be reft of its last loving cries.
Losing my Voice
The hall table is an old gramophone. Where the turntable went is a hole, surrounded by plush velvet. Small steel needles, nubbed and sharp, lay around the carcass of the HMV cabinet. The speaker, if they called it a speaker back in those days, is set behind hinged doors. Black metal, wide to narrow, a roadway for the Batmobile I whiz toward the curve it cannot get past. When I push my Dinky cars though, they disappear from sight, into the dark uvula of his master’s voice. Small fingers strain around the opening, feeling for the lost toys. When the Old Man and Mam move from our house in the city they get rid of the gramophone cabinet, and with it my childhood, swallowed in the belly of the beast. I want to tell them to hang on to it until my next trip home, but there’s a house to empty, a thousand things to do, and the Old Man fails rapidly. They sell the cabinet to an antiques dealer from town, who shunts it off in the back of a truck, the coffined resting place of my lost toys, and my lost childhood. The muffled cry of his master’s voice goes unheard.
Alan S. Kleiman
Dancing with Varese
I’m having a total Varese night of it
Sad your peels are closed
but happy to know
we are in the same alphabet
and always inundated with sweetness
at the sound of your footsteps
in the opening paragraph.
Not content at slithering
I relish hot dogs mustard and petards
when men are men
and girls go to the bathroom
giggling hoping for friendship
when it may be just noise
because society craves invention
Progress peaks at postal hours
and men who carry doors with them
at every turn open them
extend an arm and say
Slap me five Cucamonga
I just married your brother.
Tales like that and alphabet soup
occur strangely in peach filled bowls
except when the cream is loose and
you can taste it on your lips
like tonight I hope I pray I fear
Kiss the cat Margaret.
Joan Stepp Smith
Accoutrements with Patina of Variegated Shes
No iron clad no’s get her this far into late October. The clouds are acting rude as rabbits. They do it slow to Slavonic Dances [just 10 and 2] with no clue how clout and a tip left for a braless waitress is to work out. He would have stiffed her. She had jerk down pat. Sure, she understands a black duck skirt could be a telling back drop. True, some doors have no bolts and the inset dollhouse next to the towel machine cannot ask questions: Why are you frantic? Why the shaky hands? Why wants nothing to do with spills or its opalescent intelligence. Why wants to masquerade in a lifelong curiosity [or grandiosity, she would say] and why it is hard-as-Hell to mop up in a public restroom and why the toilet [actually] can be a swell Laundromat. The dollhouse embedded in the wall, despite the trouble someone took to tuft a little lavender wing-back chair to match a little wing-back settee, is not safe behind loose glass. There is vintage mohair involved ~ no-see-ums, museum beetles, ambient grease. In a deal like this mold veers toward the moth-eaten greens mildew is famous for. They will go beyond bounds. They will surpass wishy-washy verdigris, no matter how a tiny hook rug lays on tiny hand-hewn planks, in a tiny Eastern European parlor religiously shrunk to half-inch scale. Liable spot for surprise, as any, quite aside from having to delve into the handiwork of a runt fanatic, or a fanatic runt or judge why who can judge was his motto. He will not lump a little rug’s issues into the idea of a Lilliputian Crêpe Suzette the size of a dollar pancake. She will, and take umbrage, too [however fleetingly] since the rug is a diaphragm beige [minus the plastic sheen, of course] and whatever flatness she pictures in the commotion there must have been, maybe she, herself, may have wished to fly through a tiny window festooned by lace drapes sewn from a single handkerchief. Who will know she knew nothing of Prague, nor of verisimilitude via a miniaturist’s masterpiece, nor of flying high among a hundred spires? Perhaps, she will continue to underestimate the festive, and the furtive, and everything else, if everything else simply by just looking at it makes her feel nothing she can feel, a much different feeling than feeling like someone else, or even like herself with her skirt off, bleeding. Stranger still, looking back, was that sign over the handicapped stall: ALL HELP SUDS HANDS BEFORE GOING BACK: lifelike, vibratory, getting washed up, letting a dollop of soap small as a mung bean, foam up on the haunches of spanking pink palms, leave that smell of faintly salted cream.
A Crêpe Suzette is diaphragm beige, and of variable size unlike a dollar pancake which is the exact size of the hooked rug in the dollhouse, though the doll rug was a tad deeper than a toad umber: no allusions should be made to THE GREAT AMPHIBIOUS ONUS [circa Jonah and the Whale] when back then an onus generally turned into a bonus. Today, onus bonuses have seeped into common parlance in numerous ways, i.e. one-fers, two-fers, three-fers and periodically get ganged up in other terms.
The mung bean is yellow~Joy Detergent yellow ~ and best germinates in java mulch.
Faint: Old Eng. faynt. Coll. I feint, I saloon, I flail. Abbreviation used in the occasional snide aside: e.g.: I flail to find the humor in it…
Exhaling the Breath of Delacroix’s Hookah
-Honoring The Women of Algiers (1834) at the Louvre
After the break-up, I’ve gotten my life back. I feel so girly now. We break out our bellies and warm up with gypsy music, “Upa Cupa.” We body wave in a sea of bikini tops. Our hands flutter tribal skirts, and I spin electric in a violet whorl. We shimmer back in a hall of crystal mirrors.
Dancing beside me is Missy M. I’ve been soothing her skin with beeswax and lavender salve since she got an ink touch-up. We’ve been friends since before she was Missy M., back in the day when we took ballet together. We still use our chasses, releves, and turns. Missy M. is her burlesque stage name, and we have different stage names for belly and burlesque. We become whatever we imagine and create ourselves to be.
Missy is always there for me, no matter what. When I dumped my boyfriend, I also dumped my psychiatrist. I cut down on my meds slowly, flushing my valium down my delirium tremens sink, dissolving into a psychic abyss.
A shimmy purrs through my body, and I do the sweetest shoulder rolls. When Missy and I perform duets together, people slip tips in our mirrored hip belts. We don’t do private dances. Sometimes we paint our bodies in tribal motifs, dance liquid in the breath of goat skin drums, and we are one breath with our sisters and everyone. I trance in the music and dance, but Missy brings me back.
Now the music switches up to rap tunes, and we smirk and swear as we dance. I snake my arms as though I’m moving in honey, and we finish. Missy and I slip off our big ass skirts, leaving on harem pants.
We walk outside for some smokes with our other sisters before burlesque. The cool air breathes with the planets and stars. We share a lighter and voices drift. Missy inhales, and her crystal sparks. In the back room burlesque, you can do more than touch your hair and even bite your lip. We honor our bodies, and hell yes, the mother goddess herself. We exhale. Our words drift in a smoky rose, floating on ball and toe steel stilettos.
Pamela Johnson Parker
Ornithology: Wild Canaries
“These are a few of my favorite things.” Charlie Parker
Late daze of August,
When thimbles of coneflower
Seeds stand out in stark
Relief, as the hot
Pink petals droop, drop away,
How he and she break
Off from their flock,
In an undulation (their
Of a holy roller
Coaster) and then begin to
Nest. Grasses, needles
Of evergreen weave
To a teacup steeping one
Egg. The male—who’s mere
Ounces of purest
Bullion except for those
Dark-barred wings, that black
On, mixolydian, as
He fetches seeds to
Tempt his mate to eat,
As she cozies one Alice-
Blue egg, translucent
As the finest china,
Flow blue from the Far East.
As he sings and sings
And sings to her, I’m
Reminded of all the hot
And sour soup you served
That August when I
Was great with child, our daughter;
How to me, to her,
You sang and you sang,
Sunday shirt bright beneath your
Black suit, as you crooned
To me, as you crooned
To our daughter, These are
My girls, my girls, mine.
Sheldon Lee Compton
Splitting Up Hairs
Ten years old and Clive was at the edge of the pews watching the lights overhead reflecting off the pick guard of the Gibson Hummingbird like the light from God’s eye shining straight through the tiny building with its tin roof and curled wallpaper, soaking into the wood, his dad’s fingers moving like strands of wind-blown hair across the strings, that brooding and focused face always drawn down to the floor, never looking at the congregation or the other band members, always pulled down.
A mumble from him above the music. Here is God. This is God.
Still-water eyes resting catatonic at a spot somewhere between the worn tops of his shoes and on through eternity, immortality, never to return.
Clive gave the interview after the festival gig and the other band members gathered backstage and talked about Clive while Clive talked about himself, and there was no music after that and Clive gave more interviews and sang less and less. When he talked after that he never said the word band and he always used the word sacked and before long everyone believed him. He trashed the others often enough, they at last had to have him back. It was a close vote.
He took to carrying a pocket bible with him to practice sessions, and then to gigs, brandishing it during lead solos, pushing it out into the faces of the swaying fans and stomping his feet, waving his head, thrashing his arms. It was the beginning of the end.
Mr. Hampton. That’s what they called Clive once he split from the band and started his church – The Church of the Hardcore Lost. Clive started his first sermon by explaining to the ten or twelve people music was where Christ was found. The Church of the Hardcore Lost was one big celebration, a holy gathering made up of Fender Strats and Marshall amps and blues-soaked vocals. The words were the Lord’s, but the sound was something from his past, something he could not let go.
The few older members began holding to their ears, and the younger ones seemed to sit through the songs, gospel songs dressed up as rock and metal, with a forced patience. None of this went unnoticed. Clive started telling the Hardcore Lost congregation to call him Clive instead of Mr. Hampton. Mr. Hampton was his dad, and he didn’t like his dad because his dad didn’t love the Lord.
Soon confusion seeped into the churchgoers. The goal and means of reaching the goal – to come closer to God – was shuffled about with half-hearted and paraphrased verses from worn out passages from the bible. Members dropped off. The broken-down church the county allowed Clive to use if he promised to make improvements with contributions sagged more every week. Before long a shaft of Sunday morning sunlight made its way through a hole in the roof, traveling in that perfect way a beam of early light can, and fell on the coal stove situated five feet or so in front of the pew.
Clive found himself forgetting sermons and becoming lost in the shaft of roofbeam light, wondering where it led, beyond the clouds and into the heavens. Over time songs formed in his head. A melody here, a lyric there. Then full volume power chords and screaming vocals. Soon the others, the drummer, the bassist, all the rest, were drowned from earshot. Sets during sermon breaks were only Clive, his own one man show. Not a band.
What the hell you think you’re doing?
Clive’s dad – a hardened man sucker-punched by religion so long ago no one spoke of it anymore. The stories made the rounds, though. His dad just went mute that day, the day Clive came alive listening to him play with his whole heart. Stopped in the middle of a set and walked away. There was no room for vanity in worship. And he made clear to Clive rock music was the most severe vanity. Just as well slap God in the face, he said.
Why not go on to The Poverty House? I’m tired as all hell listening to people tell me how you’ve lost your mind, having concerts in the name of God, taking people’s money and buying guitar cases and brand new keyboards and all that shit.
The Poverty House was a bar two miles up the road from Clive’s Church of the Hardcore Lost, a bar with hard music and drink he knew well. But he wasn’t going there. He wanted his dad to remember that feeling when he played in church with faith in his heart, to forget whatever seemed to break him that day.
Clive insisted that his dad try to remember playing in church all that time ago when it seemed like he and the guitar were just one thing, how his fingers working the strings were like strands of hair blowing in the wind. How he saw God there then.
His dad picked up the Gibson from the corner, hooked his fingers under the strings and pulled hard. Three broke loose, small whips striking through the air.
Seems like to me you ain’t doing nothing but splittin’ up hairs, Clive. Keep it up, see how that works out for you.
There was nothing else to say. Clive left. It was two days until Sunday. He hoped the sun was out early, hoped that shaft of sunlight was shooting through the broken roof.
Few of Clive’s family had attended church in some years, beginning with his dad. But the following week, his dad arrived with the Gibson fitted a new set of steel strings and sat in the front row.
Clive nodded in acknowledgement, but there was none given in return, so he started his sermon, the one he had written two days earlier about how God wanted all of his children to celebrate in the ways best for them. As his band members started plugging in their instruments, Clive’s dad stood, his guitar tucked beneath his arm like he had been born with it attached in that very spot.
My boy here means well, everybody. He just needs a reminder.
He looked at Clive and waited for a sign to keep going, and Clive motioned for him to continue.
My name is Ben Hampton. I was a follower of Christ once and fell. That’s enough about me, just figured you deserved to know. I’m going to play a song this morning and then I’ll be on my way. Thanks.
Clive’s father pulled a wicker lawn chair over, checked the roof to find the thin line of sunlight peeking through, and set the chair level in its path. The song came at once and filled the busted-up church, the eyes again at the floor, the light hitting perfectly on the guitar. To Clive, it seemed the light reflected into each soul in attendance, every lost child, just as he knew it could. And Clive, not sure the plan, allowed his soul to open again, and prayed the others might allow the same, if only for an hour. He knew, much like a perfect key, an hour of worship could change a life.
a small force of juice
part of mind
time is a metric say
I had become already
young, long braid, hands wide on the table,
we finger air
The piano occupied space like a piece of furniture, as if Joey were meant to play a big brown chest of drawers. Hauled across the Ozarks by mules and obligation at a time when he couldn’t even spell the word inheritance, the piano left him no choice. He would be groomed to turn furniture into music
Middle C stuck. It boomed through the house, Do sounding long after Fa and La had waned. Some memories hold on, some don’t. This was the first lesson Joey learned from the instrument. But then the Czech man who lived on the corner came and fixed the pad on Middle C. For 20 dollars.
Does one learn Chopsticks, or does it just come naturally? Like the back-and-forth of chewing or breathing. Like flapping a snow-angel. He moved his fingers in and out and made music until someone yelled to shut up. It was their fault, he thought. He hadn’t hauled this piece of loud furniture across mountains on mules.
The lessons began. Real lessons. Not just the ones the piano taught him. The real lessons involved an elderly lady, a metronome and “We’re paying her 8 dollars an hour for this, so you will learn to play it!” Joey’s first real lesson was obligation.
Three months later middle C was sticking again, like a tumor that grows back no matter how many Czechs one sends to fix it. Joey groped the keys for scales that circumnavigated middle C. He transposed Chopsticks and Alouette, then Laura’s Theme and Bach’s Prelude Nr. 1. As he was playing the a-minor Chopin waltz in d-sharp minor, the elderly lady with the metronome put her cold, arthritic hand on his and said, “You will be a concert pianist.”
At which point Joey searched at her face—wrinkled and ghostly—turned back to the keys, closed the lid and walked away.
The moving company is late. The twins are banging Chopsticks on the piano so hard that the crystal punchbowl set, centered on top, is tinkling dust. The sun through the sliding glass doors shows how thick the air is. I wonder where I’ll put that punchbowl set once the flat surface of the piano is gone.
We’ve moved this piano three times in three years. It takes three men and a pulley, and I’ve taken all the meds I can take today. I go through my self-soothing exercises and visualize enormous moving men—shoulders like mules’—showing up at that fucking door. I imagine a home without Chopsticks. I’ll put the punchbowl in the attic.
An owl bookend falls off the piano, which only makes the kids bang and laugh harder. The books follow: an avalanche of Twain, Dickens and more dust. I watch the door and self-soothe. My doctor tells me to hum a scale, but I think of an empty, quiet room instead. And I whisper, “My world is not broken. My world is not broken.”
“An octave higher, kids! Thank you! That key sticks!” Middle C sticks. Dad had it repaired so many times. I don’t have the money to fix it or the patience to play it—not like my father. We used to hear stories about how little Joey was a virtuoso when he was eight. I think I played Mozart when I was eight, but Dad said I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to. He said that’s what he learned from the piano: that you can simply walk away from obligation. “Higher, kids!” I’m trying not to shout. “That key—” will be the new owner’s problem soon.
The ivory is yellowed and chipping. It has real ivory keys. That’s why I’m selling it today, before the kids bang it to bits. I’m breaking my promise. I had an obligation to learn from the piano and to teach my sons to learn from it, to tell them about mules and mountains and the necessity of its presence, but they need iPhones. It’s not my fault. My sister got money. All I got was this loud, heavy piece of furniture.
Just like I read the news
She stood in the doorway that day in fifty seven
on that warm bright sunny morn
leaning against the sill
told us what we didn’t want to hear
Children, dad died this night
we went on reading our comics
not wanting to listen
Here comes the son
there went the sun
out of my life
Grandparents and aunts perished thereafter
but it was just like I read the news, as a boy
I just wanted to hold his hand
Say, you want a revolution?
two died that year
well, you know . . . .
baby you can drive my hearse
it couldn’t get much worse
She sang will you still need me
when she was sixty
four years later
I thought I didn’t
I was heltered and skeltered all over the place
doin’ it in the road
no mother nature’s son
I got blisters on my soul
while my guitar loudly screeched
I rode the pony
down the long and winding road
back to where I once belonged
She stood in the doorway in nineteen eight oh
on that cold bright sunny morn
head against the sill
she told me what I didn’t want to hear
Walter, John was killed
No comic books to block the pain
my guitar started to weep
and in the end
I got a phone call
no one in the doorway anymore
A Hard Day’s Night
I am not too sure what I am here for. It might be happiness, or the urge to search within me, or something I am yet to decipher.
The reflection of the bulb over my head is dancing in the whiskey tumbler on my table. Or is it swimming, warding off the cold from the ice?
Should I drink the whiskey straight up? I do, order a refill, and discover another reflection of the bulb in it. I must drink this one too. And then I ask for another. It goes on until I lose the count.
The bar is full of people. And their farts, the conversations they abandon every now and then, all full of zest, their worries erased for the time being. Eye-candy women simmer all around, many in silk saris, their pouts brighter, and redder in the dim light. The last thing on anyone’s mind are the mosquitoes, preying as they are under the tables.
I lose track of time as minutes swim by. Or has it been hours?
But there is no one. It’s just me in the mirror of the restroom. I try to smile, fail, and give up. How long have I been in here?
I turn to see that the voice belongs to a small man who emerges delicately from behind me. He has pink lips and he is very slender. Like a worm because he is overtly meek, submissive. I see the way he looks at me and can tell he is a worm that can be trampled under the feet or kicked along the floor, only to learn there is another life that’s even more insignificant. I watch him, cannot take my eyes off him. Of all the places, this worm is trying to make a conversation with me in the restroom. What could he want?
There are clothes hanging loosely on his body, which he quickly slips out of, the two of us looking at each other in the mirror of the large restroom. He is now naked and smiles shyly. His body sways as if he wants to dance.
‘You look natural.’ Embarrassed and knowing no better, I have to say it right at the moment when I sense his enthusiasm falter.
‘Sir, I am all for free.’
More minutes crawl by, or has it been hours? What is this man-boy with pink lips trying to convey? I am too drunk to think clearly. He waits, then gather his clothes and muttering something under his breath, leaves. I watch him go.
Later, back in the bar, I am with a red-lipped woman. Her pout is excessive and I like it, but I love her naked shoulders that are moving in slow circles more. We walk out together when I see her shoulders slow down and stop. The man with the pink lips is right behind, following us, looking hurt, but determined, and I have to turn back and shout at him until he runs away, scurrying like a rat who doesn’t have any real reason to fear.
Damn these worms, I mutter through clenched teeth. For the first time something urges from inside, telling me I should try to cuddle the boy-man. But I know it is wrong, unnatural. I have done enough wrongs in my life and I don’t want to add more to the list.
I hold her hand in the Delhi metro rail. She’s warm, rather hot. I think of her as a blanket I can use for the night. I know she’ll run off eventually, taking something or other with her, but since all the small things in my apartment are already gone, it won’t really hurt if she took the giant sofa in the living room away. It’s the sofa I never liked — the sofa my wife never forgot to remind me was her choice.
Dogs bark, but we ignore them and walk in silence. She’s trying to make a conversation I am not interested in. She speaks about herself, the weather, the people she meets daily at the bar.
‘Do you know a man has a soul?’ She is something, this woman.
I laugh, knowing not all men have souls. But I let her be.
On the bed, we waste minutes climbing over each other, losing fluids, finding them infused in alien flavors, forgetting the world, discovering a new one. When it’s morning, the sofa’s gone.
I celebrate, singing ‘a hard day’s night…’ by The Beatles. Now there are only the bed and me left to be stolen. I am not sure which will be last.
I head back to the bar the next evening to look for the frail man with pink lips, the worm I discarded yesterday. Maybe he is my rescue; worse, maybe he is my destiny. Let this be the final mistake of my life, I decide. I am sure if I order him, he will turn his lips red too, like the woman who stole my sofa.
Ah, he smiles when I say hello. We drink and talk; talk and drink. He is a nice, chirpy kind of fellow and he likes to talk a lot, much like the woman who stole my sofa, about places I haven’t been, people I haven’t met, pleasures I haven’t known.
We take the Delhi metro home much later and walk back holding hands. This time the dogs are angrier. At my apartment I tell him about the red lips and he smiles naughtily. I relax. He wants me to be tied down on the bed and I am happy to agree.
‘Wonderful idea,’ I whisper.
So he ties me to the bed, and when I can’t move a millimeter he bites his teeth into my neck. I scream, helpless and in extreme pain. He is laughing as another man comes in from nowhere. They kill me before I can ask them not to. Though I am not sure I would have.
I never know whether they steal my bed. I never know whether the pink-lipped man enjoyed holding my hand or stripping in front of me. But he and his partner liberate me – this I know in the seconds before the darkness takes me away.
Alan S. Kleiman
self portrait in blue
I wrote a song in my sleep
I can’t remember.
Something about my body.
What music do you hear when afraid?
It was soft, but not too soft,
at times almost Vivaldi,
though no excessive optimism.
Partly Cohen, frogging his Hallelujah,
accepting the slightest of nothing.
Because I have written in my sleep,
because I am not a musician,
they were simple chords,
space between family
or space between notes—
Manacha lobbed into a Polish pit,
Ben, shushed inside a stinking ship—
the world’s dissonance
before Monk & I don’t know.
Now here I am—another aging woman.
What or who are these tunes that won’t leave me?
Hands that clap with the Barry Sisters,
as though those sirens would return everything.
If I could begin with hands.
In my dream, my hands floated away,
bright blue, almost aqua, and a black sketch of an animal
over my shoulder, everything floating,
as though we would never land safely.
Do you remember following music of a bouncing ball?
I cannot find my body.
It has become a wavelength of sound or the ting
of a triangle in the back row.
It has become blood captured behind a macula.
Everything once linear now swells.
I listen for my body as a burglar breaking in.
Tonight I will listen to songs about belonging.
There will be a guitar and one drum.
Some I will remember from long ago,
distracted in a hard chair.
Some I will hum or pretend to know,
because they are sweet songs about light and hearts.
I am trying to tell you something and I am afraid.
I never expected you to listen this hard.
I will wake you if I dream the song again.
If the new music teacher Mr. Eisenberg would have had one hair less on his head he would have looked like a termite king: Tara, whose real name was Taramasalata (pronounced ‘Terry must the latter’) named after a salty, pinkish spread made of fish remains that her father loved, strongly disliked the music teacher’s high forehead, his pale, almost translucent skin, his rabbit teeth and his habit of shifting his large bald head abruptly from side to side like a big insect. Mr. Eisenberg came from the North. His eyes contained the dark blue depth of the sea he’d grown up with, and in his ears he had forever the music made by gusts and gulls. Organ music, the howling and whistling of pipes, was his passion and he despised the rhythms and beats of modern song. This did not make him popular with his pupils. Like all teachers, he telepathically picked up on Tara’s aversion but he avoided rather than challenged her, so that she was free to doodle during lessons, stare out the window, or send small notes to her friends, in which she complained bitterly about her endless boredom.
It was a fine, very warm Monday in August and the clouds were piling up high, so high that if you looked at the very top of the white mountains you had to lean your head way back on your neck and got dizzy from the blood rushing away from your eyes. This is what Tara did in music class and for the first time, perhaps because he, too, was drawn to the building thunderheads outside, Mr. Eisenberg addressed her directly:
“Tara,” he said, “why don’t you tell us which music you listened to this weekend.” He said it with a smile, but when Tara looked at him, all she could think of was how much she loathed the sight of him.
“Well,” she said, fully knowing that she was going into battle, “first thing on Saturday morning, a baby wailed like mad in our yard and woke me up.”
“Right,” Mr. Eisenberg said, “that sounds promising, why don’t you go on.”
Tara squinted at him, then she looked at her best friend Charlotte, who had been seated across the room to stop the two girls from chatting. Was Mr. Eisenberg setting a trap for her? She went on swiftly before suspicion might paralyze her. Tara didn’t fear anything as much as being tongue-tied like a dead person:
“Shortly after that, the whole house began to shake when an earth mover drove by,” she said. “Suddenly the baby seemed to cry in the rhythm made by the machine.”
“Okay,” said Mr. Eisenberg, “what happened then.” He was almost not talking to her directly and he certainly wasn’t asking a question. Tara felt as if he was trying to just be there and listen, and she liked it against her will.
“…And then someone came down the staircase, like, fast on wooden clogs,” she said, “it sounded like this,” she thrummed on the table top: tak-tak, took, tak-tak, took … “The baby was still howling,” she said, “like so: oooh ooh, aaaaahhh eeeeh, …and on the street, the digger was thumping and roaring…” She began to slowly pound her feet on the hard lino floor.
“Yeah,” said Mr Eisenberg. Then Tara heard Charlotte shuffle her feet loudly in the same rhythm. One after the other, kids were beginning to drum or thump, too, and when she looked at Mr. Eisenberg she couldn’t believe it: he had closed his eyes, his mouth with the ugly teeth hung wide open, he was panting forth baby noises and moving his hands as if conducting the class where everyone was busy now being either a baby, or a bagger, or a bongo drum. Tara closed her eyes, too, and let herself drift off on the noise, the tak-tak-chomp and the oooh-aaah-dak and the eeeh and the thud and the thump and the thud…
Afterwards, nobody remembered when or how they had finished what Tara had started, encouraged by Mr. Eisenberg. In the sky, all clouds had dispersed and it felt fresh though it had not rained. Classes continued, teachers came and teachers went, and there was never a shortage of suffering from friendship. But Monday morning was show and tell, and all weekend Tara was tiptoeing around the house or slinking along the streets gathering sounds for another symphony.