Carol J. Jennings

The Dead Composers


Evenings they keep company

with me.  I begin with Mozart,

who flits about the room,

glass of wine in hand, laughs

at my wrong notes or slips of rhythm,

tells a dirty joke when I pause

between parts.  I want to play him

with elegance, share supper with him,

save him from that early death.


But I can do none of these,

so on to Beethoven's Pathetique.

I love him best for pouring

light and dark into every score—

though now he glowers in the corner,

does not forgive mistakes,

never smiles, even if well played.


It gets late, so I shift to romantics,

who impatiently wait their turns.

Chopin wrote nocturnes for married women—

were they patrons or lovers, I boldly ask? 

He smiles mysteriously, does not reply.


Liszt wrote for hands larger than mine,

changes key often, complicates the rhythm;

yet he allows for liberties,

as Mozart never will,

and I am grateful to him for that. 


I like to close with Brahms,

who dreamed, I'm sure, of holding Clara

through his waltzes and rhapsodies.

But Schumann frowns at me from the stairs,

so I mollify him with Scenes of Childhood.

Schubert must wait until tomorrow.


Like having multiple lovers—

these connections

of cadences and keys,

chords and accidentals,

changing tempos,

touches of ivory, not flesh.


They are faithful in their way,

the dead composers,

spirits who come

when summoned by their notes,        

but always know it's time to leave

as I close the keyboard lid,

dim the overhead light.

Carol Jennings was born and grew up in western New York State.  She attended The College of Wooster, and received her B.A., M.A., and J.D. from New York University.  She worked as an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection for more than 30 years, retiring at the end of 2011.  She has participated in numerous poetry workshops at NYU, the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Md., and Chautauqua.  In addition, she served on the staff of The New York Quarterly in the early years of its publication.  Her poems have appeared in The New York Quarterly, Potomac Review, Oberon, Amelia, Chautauqua, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and two anthologies.



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