A Composer's Notepad ::

Songbook for Maria

a collection of poems for my wife

by Karl Henning

(song no. 1)

o sunshine
lend me courage
if courage i need

o wind
lend me speed
if speed is wanting

o grass
why this unseemly sloth
when so much pavement
trembles and awaits
your inevitable conquest?

(... spring)

(song no. 2)

operaís beginning
they know itís love
they feel that
at the final curtain
they will make a nice
couple but the composer
makes them sing in different keys

he writes their parts on two separate
corners of his desk
on a blanket on the sidewalk
powder falling from the sky
shaken from carillon starlight
an opera winter night
twinkling flickering tintinnabra
shining clappers in deep blue belfry
ringing winter into my ears

i saw myself dreaming
and myself dreamt of me
sitting at a desk where the me
meant to get some work done
the me had got as far as
lifting the my hands to the desk-top
fingertips danced

curtain fell
i would have written before now
but my hand was resting so comfortably
on the unsmudgeably blank sheets

(... winterís tale)

(song no. 3)

i see what i wish to see
i see the wind and its tirelessness
a ship at sea the horse on its mountain
with her brush in hand
she dreams at her easel
i see bark, i see leaf
a gardener with eyes like a cold river
beneath a gypsy moon
things she makes visible
to me invisible before

i see what desire bids me see
huge stars hanging from my ceiling
i lie on the floor
shrinking from their heat
i welcome the breeze
stealing into our bedroom window
i see bark, i see leaf
i see the tree dreaming as it stands

my love, i wish to trade
my horse for your studio
my saddle for your palette
i will groom my stallion
patiently clean the comb
and make of the hair a brush
for you to sweep over your canvas
your easel is a door to a world
which is the world that we all know
shown us by your love
for what is in the world
a ship at sea the horse on its mountain

in the evening when i wash my face
after i finish rubbing it dry with a towel
it is a fresh canvas readied for you
and each passing stroke of your brush
tickles my cheek my eyelids my brow
you dream at your easel
i see bark, i see leaf
a gardener with eyes like a cold river
beneath a gypsy moon
i see the wind and its tirelessness
i feel paint drying

(... sleepwalking romanza)
after Garcia Lorca

(song no. 4)

you were a tree
& i was the rain
falling in droplets
on your leaves
& i was a bird
singing a strange
american music
on your branches
& i was the earth
holding tight
onto your roots

you were a rose
& i was the sun
warm but far away

(... postcard)

(song no. 5)

i had a date with spring
i didnít know at all and
i was a little nervous
on our six-day first date
kissed almost immediately
and very immediately liked it
so i felt i should behave
differently with spring
the crows dress differently here
they sport grey-feathered
spring came to my door overdressed
in gaudy blue-purple rainclouds
sometimes through the folds
the sun shone like calls
from saint petersburg
i took spring around
to the backyard knowing that she
shares her motherís bedroom
so i made breezy remarks
and hung my wet clothes
on the line
draped my mind
over my fingers
stroking her cheek
yet spring passed
among my shirts
and we carefully collected
a ladybug
off my dripping cuff

across from the train station
the garish soviet-era statue
has been taken down
and instead you may see
in bronze and marzipan
spring asking
karl henning to a hayride
i am the one muttering
about crows
and holding clothespins

(... monument)

(song no. 6)


the pen remains still
in truth it is the paper
which moves so strangely


unwilling to drink
such deep colors
i sit awhile
while melting ice-cubes
bleach them


early spring sunlight
and late winter breeze
mingle while i search
rippling canal waters
for reflected domes
and golden cross
i came
though i knew it not
seeking you


heard an ode to joy
saw godís glory
and i
thought myself
at a sidewalk cafe


i sit and consider
more than eat a patch
of black bread and beads
of black caviar
thinking more
of the maze of courtyards
and the graceful spans
across the neva


an angel
with the beloved
emperorís face
atop a massive
of free-standing
the angel
of the unruly


on cafe napkins
schubert spilt songs
on goethe
i admire the palace
and the square
more vast even
than its seeming
i sit at the piano


i write with the wrong pen
the weave of the napkin
with reckless absorption
bleedily blurs
already fuzzy thoughts


in memory
i walk the perimeter
of peterís fortress
with you again
my sorry footwear
crunching thin ice
in mock triumph
and your eyes effect
effortless conquest
of my thawing heart

(... nine musettes)

(song no. 7)

the three of us laughed
in the golden sunshine
laughed in the spray of rain

cars floated in a mist
of wheel-churned water
from the suddenly wet roadway

we laughed looking at trees
the westering sun to our backs
laughed for joy at the yearís first rainbow

wet hair wet necks wet cheeks
rain in our eyes, inside our shirts
laughing unstoppable laughter at it all

before us the ring of bright color
standing against purple cloud
reminder of unending promise and light

generous unbounded laughter
for the rainbowís beauty was ours
and we
ready to share and none the poorer

(... sunshower)

(song no. 8)

i walk on the mountain
the clouds brush my hair
the song of the sky whispers in my ears
the stars lean on my shoulder

my heart floats on the wings of dawn
and even in the grass i walk on
and in the earth which stains my feet
beats the inexorable pulse of heaven

(... thanksgiving)

(song no. 9)

a green the shade of new leaf
on the maple in april
the indefinable blue
of late autumn sky
reflected in cayuga
the sparkling grey in your eyes
when i return home

the unfailing invention
of the nightingaleís song
so natural, so unaffected
that first you hear and then listen
the bubbling coo of the turtle
as she pecks through the black shells
the love in your voice
as you offer me some tea

(... color)

(song no. 10)

she doesnít have a cat
so she stencils paw-prints
on the floor the paint brown
like the mud which in fact
she is glad the cat she doesnít have
doesnít track
she pulls out her phone
so words float like stars
on a still pool
sunfish dart
beneath the stars

not poetry but studies for poetry
an insistent inability to set pencil to paper
spurred by the vague desire
to record racing thoughts
there are letters you drop into slots
even though you donít understand the signs

eternally misrehearsing a phone number
few or none of the buttons look right
turn off the moonlight
dial quickly
scattering the sunfish

before i awoke to your white night
and could brush my hair in the blues of your eyes
i saw mirrors in icicles surrounding my sunglasses
i answered a knock at the border with incorrect papers
i wrapped the cast on my arm in a plastic bag
to join men i didnít know in a country sauna
i sank into a subway though i couldnít see bottom

she gave me a photograph
from the future of a kitten
the cat has a young girl
you can see in the girlís eyes
she is thinking of the cat
and even (possibly) of me
(thereís that look in her eyes)

you can see in the catís eyes
the girl & the photographer are less
than the sunfish trying the phone
sheís disconnected

deep in the background
in the catís paw you can see

(... casual paintbrushes)

(song no. 11)

while it was raining
and while the droplets were still few
we found the edge of the pond
in a clearing past tall oaks
the smooth stones at pondís bottom
offered no footing
so we squatted in the shallow water
cool and the air not much warmer

floating in the cool pond gave me
the fleeting impression
that i was big as the pond
that my fingertips could touch
the far shore
my arms outstretched
the ducks and geese
took to the air
stepping off my wrists

the bark of a distant dog
and the clap of nearing thunder
and we rushed
as fast as the slippery stones would permit
to the towels and the clothes kept dry
and after a while
we left the curious trail of ducklings
behind on the rain-speckled pond

(... summer swim)

(song no. 12)

i am singing
because the brightness of the stars tonight
would shame me
if i kept silence

i am singing
because the wind is so crisp
and the air is so clean
that with all my being
i feel that the song from out my lips
must be pure as well

i am singing
for if i did not give thanks
for our family
for our love
for the joy we share in creating
and for holding your hand --
if i do not give thanks for these
i do not deserve them

i am singing
to give thanks
to the giver of song

(... thanksgiving night air)

(song no. 13)

without asking whether i deserved it
i found myself writing
a song to the dawn
without opening the backdoor
i knew there would be peanut shells
on the back landing
and i thought of my wifeís easel
and the canvas resting on it
the canvas a living thing
in the way that it would change
and grow in response to the love
she applies to it through brush and paint

i put the kettle on
knowing i would need to turn the flame
quickly down
lest its whistle awake my love from her dreams
dream on my sweet
dream that we are walking along the pondís edge
dream that the bread falls from our hands
towards the impatient geese
dream of the wisps of cloud
reflected in the pondís surface

my song to dawn is a song
of my belovedís rest
as i knot my necktie
and patiently await
the pouring of hot water over teabag
joy at the work she has done
at her easel yesterday
joy at the work she will give
herself to later this day
a song of thanks to dawn
for the new day
and more peanuts tossed gladly
to the jays and squirrels

a song of the play of glancing sunlight
falling among the new leaves
as though light were a thing
newly invented by boyish laughter
a song
of the proud tall birchís shimmering leaves
trembling in the gentle morning breeze

a song of thanksgiving
a holiday to be celebrated
at all times and in all seasons
and always outdoors
did i think all these things
when i opened the backdoor
baring my soul and opening my eyes
to spring in the yard
or did all these beautiful things
think me?
my heart stirs at the whispered sounds
of morning quiet
dare i drown it out with my oafish noise?
i put the flame out
underneath the readied kettle
the steam-scent of jasmine tea
it seemed i smelt it with my eyes
did i think these things
or did they come to me
rising from the painted ceramic mug?
shall i drink this tea?
and should i not strive to become
one of springís finer thoughts?

i breathed in
great draughts of the morning air
and the rich scent of fresh grass
and the second flush of maple blossom

(... aubade)

(song no. 14)

many teach that life
is a succession of blank pages
and that the history of man
is a matter of writing the pages over

of these
some teach that the goal is
that all the pages be written over
with all manner of things
so that when the last trumpet sounds
we may know the number
of the pages

but the wise teach the true goal

that all the pages
howsoever great their number
be written over with the same thing
every last one
until the writing on all lifeís pages
is the same

and the writing is love

(... parable of the pages)

(song no. 15)

as to some rare concert
we listened to the rainfall
at first it tapped out
the march of time
until she took her motherís clock away
smothering time in blankets

the rainfall said
i know i got up late and all
is it really still just today
or a brighter tomorrow already

i could listen more closely
after she trimmed my beard

i thought i heard the rain say
how about some tea
seems it might have been
my wife

for all the flowers on the table
i couldnít get to the kettle
helpless i watched it boil
steam falling up to the sky

(... chopin on majorca)

[ Songbook for Maria compiled in 1998 ]

in Firenze


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