The History of Music

With unrehearsed bravado you rise
and play a difficult concerto
that makes your cheap new violin
resound like a Stradivarius.

You aren’t even on the program,
but the audience adores you,
some women fainting with joy,
men tearing up and shouting.

As you finish in a shudder
of sixteenth notes the rafters
rise and the night sky tumbles in,
a glory of stars to crown you.

We surge around you laughing
with the wonder of such prodigy.
A week later in this same hall,
scheduled to play a little Schubert,

you’ll falter and trip over notes
the average child could master
with three days’ practice. The crowd,
two by two, will slip outside

and toss away their programs. For now,
you’re Orpheus strumming his lute
and taming the cruelest animals.
Next week these same animals

will devour you, licking the foam
from their lips. Enjoy the miracle
while its afterglow lasts. The stars
tangled in your hair will extinguish

within the hour, and the hands
that tickled that violin to life
will feel inert as meatloaf.
Next week after your failure

no one can console you enough;
but when you exit, cloud-cover
will have absorbed the mess you made,
buffering the crudest discords.

William Doreski

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. His latest collection of poetry is Waiting for the Angel (2009). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors.  His fiction, essays, poetry, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, Natural Bridge.

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