ABYSS OF THE BIRDS
During Hitler’s War, he lit the eyes of prisoners
like stars in a frosty January, soldiers in their hundreds
crowding round him and his première:
a froggy joke at best to Stalag guards, Messiaen
humoured piano in concentration as a soldier.
April and May dawns in his mouldy bunk moulding in his mouth
rusts in that place of starvation, scarce a snail round,
waiting for the first bird calls to jot down as given,
he could not wander the woodlands beyond
the barbed wire to animate the chorus.
That addled him a lot. How in hell to play the piece . . .
The best he could muster was a cello walking wounded
all three strings wailed Messiaen and Henri Akoka
Jew, clarinetist lucky with a clarinet; the old key-sticking piano
Messiaen’d play himself, Jean Le Boulaire, violin,
rehearsals six to lightout in the splashing washrooms,
and there were the ad lib birds, his playing with them on the score
four of the seven movements with the weeping cello
Akoka whimpering it’s too difficult. “You’ll manage,”
Swastikas sniffed at the bars on the page: Messiaen’s
white lie, “it’s about doves.”
Laughing, they left the madman with his ear cocked
for the birds across barbed wire. “It is all love.”
Huts in Gorlitz all chipped in, a new cello for Etienne.
Górecki, at the piano, recalled how as a Polish boy
with other boys he ran into Auschwitz when the Nazis left
so many bones, they just kicked them round the place
sometimes a callow skull or two for soccer
and, then, Górecki, he turned away to choke in chords.
From daybreak his two manic fists painted the wheeling crows,
the caws of crows, over yesterday’s hailstone-battered wheat.
Lightning storms. Deluges. Gales. These pass for weather now.
The sun nails him and his flaming hair out mid-way in our wheat.
Reapers waiting for Van Gogh to finish, we grudge him
one more day of easel and palette.
His eyes into mine swung sharp as scythes, so I got down
(let the cleg-bitten horse go feed a bit on the corn),
offered him mug and more of buttermilk,
but he was too far snared, nor took the drink,
knew he was wasting time as the heavens split and crashed.
Under a rippling poplar after we’d eaten, drunk, pissed,
we heard the shot or one more rip of thunder,
saw him stagger like a drunk out of the corn.
We cut, bound, stooked and stacked his acre
in an hour.