Saturday, January 15, 2011

Xylophone Notes

I have been working on a grant for days now. While I have been deep in Grantland with all of its accompanying frustrations, my own words went scuttling away faster than any crawdad I ever saw. And, like those tenacious crawdads of yore, no amount of poking under the rocks with a stick could bring my personal words back out.

I sent the grant draft out to my colleagues for review this afternoon. For the last hour of it, while I snipped and tied up loose ends, Warren was in the basement practicing ragtime rhythms and tunes on his xylophone.

The notes were hopping up the stairs and spilling into the kitchen. Bright, bouncing notes - brisk, high bouncing notes right out of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Ragtime notes. 

When Warren was twenty, he spent his summer working in the Musser factory in La Grange, Illinois. For the most part, he spent his days drilling holes in xylophone and marimba bars. In the evening, he would head to the upstairs room he was renting nearby and play his marimba for hours.

The marimba is a sonorous instrument with rich, lush tones that hang forever in the air. The marimba does not bounce and chatter like the xylophone does.

The marimba sings. The xylophone chants jump rope rhymes.

The marimba is flowing water. The xylophone is pebbles skipped across water.

When I first heard and watched Warren practice marimba, almost three years ago, I did something I rarely do: write a poem. (Rarely? How about never?) The sounds resonating in the air pulled the words right out of me.

Today's xylophone playing did much the same thing. Those gold-hatted, high-bouncing Fitzgeraldian notes yanked those stubborn words right out of the rocks and crevices and threw them down on paper. I picked up my pen for the first time in days and rearranged them until I came up with this.

Many thanks, my dear husband, for always giving me gifts from the heart, even when you are "just practicing." Here is one from mine in return.

Warren at the Marimba

Running water
Over rocks
Over small ripples.

The notes clear.

I see you standing there
Hands over the bars
Mallets bouncing as your wrists turn to their own tunes

Where are you and what are you seeing?
Are you in the music?
In the babbling stream?

Do your hands know the way?

You said one summer you practiced in a small upstairs room
Facing the garage and alley
Every night you would stand up there and play
Hours on end
No air conditioning

It was hot
Chicago summer hot but you didn't notice

You were in that babbling stream
You were in that cool water

Your hands were finding their way through the notes, caressing the wet pebbles.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely poem! I have an uncle who plays the marimba and the sound of it IS enchanting. I have a brother who plays "boogie woogie" on the piano...always happy music. Can only imagine the sound on a xylophone.

Sharon said...

Love the poem!

I love hearing my children play their various instruments. Yesterday, was designated "cleaning day" and everyone was in their rooms cleaning out their stuff. My husband and I paused for a moment when we heard our 13 year old son playing the blues on his harmonica. Obviously he found it after cleaning, but we didn't know he could play?? I wasn't able to write a poem from it, (maybe I should try?) but it brought me immeasurable pleasure to hear it.

I am the working poor. said...

You wrote this so well, I could actually see the notes bouncing up the stairs.

Anonymous said...

These are beautiful. Your words flow with beauty just like Warren's notes. Not just in these little poems though but all over the page.

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