All the World’s Notes

August 2, 2019

The moment the maestro flicks his baton, an orchestra thunders and the pianist suffers a stroke. But everyone plays on...

POETRY OF THE TIMES

At a performance of Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand,” commissioned by Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein who lost his right arm during World War I.

 

The moment the maestro flicks his baton,

an orchestra thunders and the pianist suffers

a stroke. But everyone plays on while

we watch his left hand glissando the keyboard

with so much force his thumb sprays blood.

I close my eyes to turn off the sight

of his right hemiplegia, only to picture

lesions on MRIs and clots busted with tPA.

I crush my impulse to call 9-1-1 and lock in

to 88 keys stroked by five fingers, confused

by the illusion I hear the thunder of ten.

And when I let myself look again,

half a man nails the climax, then vaults

to his feet, cuff stained crimson, both palms

held to his heart, the audience in tears,

standing with “Bravos” for the soloist,

for the thrust of Ravel’s impossible score,

and for Wittgenstein’s first proof

that a man can gather all the world’s notes

in one hand and play them with the power of two.

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