Poetry Journal

Issues / Volume 5 Issue 1 , July 2015



Mark Young

This was when he felt it most, that part of the evening put aside for playing music together. A string quartet, of which he was the fifth member, sharing neither their musical tastes nor their DNA. Usually he would provide the audience, or be the page-turner if the piece were long. Sometimes he would follow the score. He had learned to read music, had studied it, composition, contrabass, first classical & then jazz, many years ago. Years without playing.

Later, when everybody had gone to bed, he would sometimes sit at the piano & pick at tunes, single-fingered like his typing, but eventually he would get there, could recognise what he was playing. Some things never left him. He could still do a little Bach, the harmonies of Debussy’s Clair de Lune, the chord changes for a twelve-bar blues. Clunk. ‘Don’t the moon look lonesome . . . ‘ clunk ’ . . . shining through the trees’. Clunk.

& then he would drift, & his hands would hover above the keyboard, & the music would flow. Perfectly, telekinetically. He would think & the keys would depress in the right combinations, in the right sequence. He was Monk, playing Straight, No Chaser at the Blue Note, he was Ray Charles on the stage at Newport, he was J. S. Bach on the well-tempered clavier, he was, he was.

But in his most secret moments he was an anonymous piano player in a smoky nightclub in Paris last century, backing Juliette Greco as she sang the latest poem Jacques Prévert had brought in for her. Her voice would build the song, the audience would push her along, he would help, chords & little runs for emphasis. & then he would pause, & the audience would catch its breath, & the last words of the poem would drift alone, out there, spreading, until everybody was caught up by them & they would finish together.

      Pourquoi me questionner
      Je suis là pour vous plaire
      Et n’y puis rien changer.