July/August 2018: Poetry
Homage to John Cage
Silence is so accurate. —Mark Rothko
Light through vaulted windows, the shadows
of elms in wind. On stage, the pianist,
hands in his lap. Still. The shadows
strumming his face, his hands. Four minutes
and thirty-three seconds of silence
so you may hear the music
of conditioned air through vents,
rustling clothes, the muffled echo
of shoes shuffling, all the sounds
the orchestra of chance performs.
The whole world is an auditorium
But halfway through, those sounds fade
and you're lost in the labyrinth
of the ear, listening to the sea
of blood drumming the tympanum, the surf
of sound waves spiraling in the cochlea,
the neurons singing synapse. You're inside
the silence so far, your body
is the only world. So it's a shock
when someone coughs and brings you back
to this unreal room, a shadow
watching shadows, an echo
hearing echoes, like the souls
chained in Plato's cave. Your life flickers
on death's wall. What music can transform
shadow to substance, echo
to original score?
Your heart repeats its one note
and you listen harder, a musician now,
as the shadows drift
across the stage like snow
and find you silent, bereft.
David Jauss, "Homage to John Cage" from Improvising Rivers. ©1995 by David Jauss. Reprinted with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center, www.csuohio.edu/poetrycenter/
Mark Rothko was a twentieth-century American painter.
"Homage to John Cage": An American poet, David Jauss taught creative writing at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock from 1980 to 2014. He has published two volumes of poetry and four collections of short stories.