The soloist was looking distinctly unwell
Glistening in a sheen of perspiration,
he gasped at me
“I don’t know why we do this, JoAnn.”
I didn’t know why either;
I was not feeling very well myself.
But I knew why that was, at least—
it was him.
I figured I had about even chances
of catching him after the cadenza
very little hope of following the first tempo transition
and — if I could race ahead of him in
the last sixteen bars —
well, maybe — just maybe — the final chords
would be together.
The stage change was endless
but not long enough.
The door opened, the yawning hall beckoned
Blanching, he looked at me and moaned
“I have no idea what will happen out there.”
Well, that I knew already.
He postured, he posed,
He flashed his mega smile at the crowd.
A doomed nod to me, and we plunged.
He feinted, I bobbed
He lurched, I lobbed
Staring at his fingers
Listening to his stomping, his sniffs,
his alarming grunts
Who knew what they meant?
Like overweight inebriated boxers
we swung at each other
Roundhouses rarely connecting,
The orchestra bouncing on and off the ropes
of the ring,
Clinging desperately to one another.
Thirty minutes passed by in a second
that seemed to last a lifetime
The last chord propelled him — a
sweaty projectile —
out of his chair and into my arms.
The audience erupted in frenzied cheers
He loves me.
I love him.
We walk offstage arm in arm.
We can’t wait to do it again tomorrow.
I give the downbeat
and hide my amazement
as beneath my feet
a floor of marble unfurls
glistening in blocks of white and deep green
filling the hall.
The thick-voiced texture of strings
knits itself into sturdy walls of brick and stone
hugging the earth and then springing up
holding us inside.
And from those walls arch graceful clarinets and bassoons
vaulting over nave and transept
stretching wooden limbs toward a limitless sky.
From towers, horns like clanging bells
trace a sonic architecture that surrounds us
shivering and trembling inside the invisible edifice
our bodies the vibrating pipes of the organ
We build the cathedral and we enter it, astonished.
And after the final thunderous chord
the exquisite fa‡ade shimmers in the air for a moment
and disappears into memory.
The airport is my decompression chamber.
Halfway between Nashville and Norfolk I wander
alone and anonymous in St. Louis.
Amidst the food court and the Rams on television
children crying and the drone of gate changes
the slap of weary sneakered feet and
dragging suitcases and cell phones.
I don’t hear any of it.
I am wandering far from St. Louis
in the crowd on Piazza Navona at midnight
My head is filled with Respighi
Singing so loudly that there is no room
for anything else.
I close my eyes and wrap that bright chaos around me,
I am reluctant to turn the page.
Between the food court and the Rams on television
I sit down and say goodbye to Respighi
Mahler 3rd lies closed upon my lap for a long time.
I open the score and eight pealing horns
lead me into a garden of astonishment.
JoAnn Falletta will read her poetry May 8 at 2 p.m. at the Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel in Portsmouth as part of the Virginia Arts Festival (tickets $20). That night at 8 and May 9 at 2:30 p.m. at Norfolk’s Chrysler Hall, she will lead the Virginia Symphony and Virginia Chorale in Richard Einhorn’s music accompanying Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (tickets $29-$70).
For more information about the Virginia Arts Festival (through May 23) visit www.vafest.com or call the box office at (757) 282-2822.
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