Tom French

Three Poems


They look like they could be going somewhere.
The bass player’s bringing everything he owns.
The cellos and bass park closest to the door.
There’s a list of their names, a place for coats.

I can’t help thinking of toothbrushes, soap,
honey wrapped for the journey in clothes,
the instruments left at home to make space,
slowly but surely slipping out of key.

The clarinet player is in his rugby gear;
so are the two flutes, and one of the violins.
Music is an interlude between sleep and play.
Everyone is going on somewhere from here –
hockey, Coder Dojo, running in The Sea Field.

Queueing in twos to have instruments tuned
makes today the day before the deluge,
and the orchestra is an ark of music
wherein two of each kind will be rescued.

The children don’t know they are blessed.
‘Keep your eyes on me and you won’t get lost.’

She says what I’ve waited a lifetime to hear,
and she is speaking to everyone but me.

‘Don’t look at the music at the very end’ –
she tells them again – ‘Look at my hands.’

From this morning on,
the theme from Ghostbusters will be
what it has never been –
a rest from Bohemian Rhapsody.

I would like to be able to tell them
how the holiday cello became a trench cello
because the cellist, when he was drafted,
could not conceive of leaving it behind.

It is shaped like an ammunition box.
Inside are none of the scrolls or curves
you’d expect, but strings and pegs,
like the things you’d use to put up a fence,

a detachable neck, all of the extremeties
contained, able, like the parts of a rifle,
to be assembled in a matter of minutes

to play Jerusalem, Keep the Home Fires
. Its sound is utmost loneliness.
It hasn’t been played in a hundred years.

It’s hard not to feel for the one on percussion
who counts bars while everyone is playing,
biding his time, following where they are.
Keeping silence is different from making no sound.

It will stand to him, this art of learning
precisely when to come in,
of placing on what he has just struck,
gently, to silence it again, an open hand.


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