I don’t know, you just can’t beat a good parade—
And John Philip Sousa, either. Either
The Colonel Bogey March, or Stars and Stripes
Forever—or—do both! A row of drums,
A row of trumpets, fifes and flutes, my fav
The glockenspiel, the cymbals, saxophones,
Sousaphones, of course. Then—then—the Mayor’s car,
The fire department, police cars, girl scouts,
Boy Scouts, the K of C—fucking A—even the
4 H Club wants in! Still, it’s a strange, strange
Prolegomenon to silence, this parade.
Like, it could be an ancient battle of
The bands, like that Charles Ives’ thing where
These two bands march along Main Street, you know,
And pass each other playing all the tunes
They can imagine…and imagine they do it
Every day, music for everybody,
24/ 7. Some imagination, right?
But silence used to speak louder than that.
Turn off the lights, my dear. It’s time for bed.
The music of the spheres is greater still.
…than simple sound, like it used to pretend
To be Sousa. But tonight we will speak
Of gentleness—really no choice—the eye’s
Plain version is a thing apart, the vulgate
Of experience—for that’s Charles Ives
Alone out there in the Commons, standing
Rigid with the cold, intent on that
Dark sculpture Saint-Gaudens built to honor
The men of the 54th Massachusetts,
A kind of death mask for the union dead.
Yes, unimpeachable, the eye—and plain:
For veterans still alive and living out
Their lives in Oddfellows homes, some tied
In chairs to prevent aimless wandering:
The vulgate of experience—sure—and
A mind of song, too—for old Civil War
Ditties, for The Girl I Left Behind Me,
For Barbara Allen, you name it, a whole
Universe of crashing symbols which these days
Have to be ironic—sure—but surely this is
The special gift Mr. Ives brings to the world:
To take the irony out, leave the music,
And leave a gentle rain to fall on minds
That are more awash with death and friends…
So—it’s a poem that the poem, and the painting of
The poem, the sculpture of the poem—its music—
Unique, must win for The Poem to win. The Poem
Beyond, that is, its genesis, thus.
Stuff that, sir.
Regurgitate that, sir.
Santayana would be proud, sir—
Thus, the poet whose name will bear no
Common inflection, Wallace Stevens, late
Again, thus cuts across the great Commons.
Aesthetic winds must muss his hair. Must win,
That is, must trump the form, just read Pater.
(He means that thing about all arts aspire
Condition of music.) But you could say
All arts condition music too, fructify
And feed music—they must. Thus: Take this bronze…
He stops, no longer late. The soldiers must
Be marching to some tune, some drum beating
Somewhere. It’s only silence now. Licentious
Demons! A gathering in the grass, a gathering of
The solitary: a sculptor did that,
—You ask—an art without a sound to share?
Sure, we could sing, or try to whistle, but
That genesis? The poem must win for the
Music to win. He stops, aghast: for freedom
To win, democracy… A ghost will rise
Above the field, this common field, they do
It every day. All the ghosts will rise. The war, sir,
The war between the mind and sky, sir.
Construct a syllogism…sir. To win.
Shaw, sir, Sir Robert Shaw, sir, reporting
For duty. Just in from Charleston, sir…
My God, he’s nervous, sweating, standing here,
A sometime sentinel, a silent soldier—
Who happens to be shitting in his shorts right now.
It was Charleston, wasn’t it? It seems
So long ago…that death thing…so…so fast…
He’s not a raw recruit, you know. He was
To lead those men, the Negros, lead and master,
Command them. And now, a tribunal? Shit.
…And had he really just called himself
Sir Robert Shaw? Well, smiles, a whole table
Of smiles. Very good,’ Sir’ Robert. I think
I shall restrict myself to ‘Colonel’ Shaw’,
Your last official writ—on earth—you know…
Avuncular smiles around the table. This
Will not be bad, he thought. They understood…
They understood shit, is what they did.
Watch this ‘avuncular’ grin grow a great head
And start barking—like a dog, a frightened dog—
A growl of strange commands. Dogs bark
To sound so big and fierce, so brave—Aw, there’s
A good little pouchie—and because they’re scared
Themselves. Should Sir Robert stand his ground?
Should he ask for something more to the point?
Something clear and linear, a story he
Can understand? His life has been a series
Of reprimands—dogs bite as well as bark—
And that music—it’s Charles Ives isn’t it?—
It’s beyond death, this thing, a song: The thing
About the afterlife, it should be, sir,
Eternity—is that the word? It should
Be timeless contemplation, a formal
Final silence, adoration, skill
Where skill was lacking, in divinity…
He settles for a simple, timid question:
Am I to be punished, sir?
(I bleed the same color of blood they do.
I cry in pain. I eat, I sleep. I miss
My children. I miss a quiet summer’s walk.
I miss my youth, my wife, my dogs, the sun,
The snow, the grapes growing ripe, Gramp on
The porch, I miss the smell of the leaves burning,
I miss the music, the crows on the roof,
Roosters, swimming, getting stupid drunk.
I miss too much. Too much music. This ought
To be the punishment. Too much music.
The sweets of life deplete the source of life.
O, I could prophesy…)
Go ahead sir, say it all:
O, I could prophesy,
But that the earthy and cold hand of death
Lies on my tongue: no, Percy, thou art dust
And food for—
For worms, Sir Robert.
There, you have an answer.
I hear a song beginning up the hill, a march.
Must be the high school band, tuning up.
A crowd has gathered. There’s distant music,
A band is coming cross the bridge. They must
Be volunteers, or soldiers on parade.
Look at those bright, new uniforms! I think
We’ll let poor Robert Shaw, so brave and fierce,
Return to ground with his dead memories,
Demons inside his head. I smell the sea.
The wind whips up the flags. John Sousa is
In town. Colonel Bogey ‘s coming down
The pike. So go ahead, strike up the band—
The kids are out of step, for sure, the drums
Are way too loud, the trumpets bleat, those fifes—
My God! This is a racket on parade!
It’s like a merry-go-round gone mad…
Still, go ahead and get yourself a pair
Of cymbals, and I’ll do glockenspiel.
A battle of the bands! I knew it.
You can’t have too much music!
You can’t have too much music!