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Life Arts    H3'ed 3/26/22

Dateline Kharkiv: Mr. K. Plays Bach's Cello Suite No. 5 (Sorta)

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excerpt Bach's Cello Suite No. 5
excerpt Bach's Cello Suite No. 5
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I. Prelude

A lone Ukrainian dabbles in the dark arts

of our ancient sorrows, opening up fissures

with his finger tips to reveal the dead rising

from the page in streams of compounding thrums;

the dense notes, a recovering army of fugue states

waking from mass graves of tumbled memories

decomposed, but now, in the vibrato, decomatosed,

gathering in a fresh realization of the light left behind --

the switch from not to being.


On a Kharkiv street, bombs have left their silence as aftermath,

silence that reverberates, now, in the quavering strings of Bach's genius

and carries the emotional gravity of his mathematical precision

to achieve what the cosmologists call chalkboard elegance,

even here in the silence, where a cellist sits alone

a silence that like John Cage's leaves us metronomes

keeping time on a stage, good money paid, so we can watch.


Bach seems wasted in this barren image, where the cellist, like a busker,

leaves off after two minutes in to the complex six part piece,

as if it had suddenly occurred to him, between chirrs,

that he was on the wrong street corner, the cash was that way,

and he had to run, leaving behind the newly conjured ghosts,

to figure out the museum they'd made of false memory;

and his Nigerian hustle to tender Americans with hearts out,

borrows perhaps from some Auschwitz photo he'd seen

depicting a showerhouse ensemble belting out Siegfried Idyll;

cue the sorrow and the pity, death in the city,

followed by a website telling where to send hard cash fast.


Oh dear mon Dieu!

Have I become so jaded that I get stingy with my PayPal gifts

when I don't feel I'm getting my money's worth?

As if, the cellist's chordic scrapes were a command performance

that I stopped just long enough on the street corner to hear,

loose change at stake, I need to feel the soul of the matter.

And when he stops one third of the way into the Prelude and scrams,

who am I to think fraud! after him! he almost picked my heart's pocket?

I mean: Probably he was just too broken up to go on

and that was the soul search I craved to hear in those strings.


II. Sarabande

Or more jaded still, maybe he'd heard

that the Sarabande movement had been played at Ground Zero,

the same notes, the ghosts of the disappeared thousands,

the bass grace notes of jumping people falling off the page,

notes wrapped in flags to shroud the secrets taken to the grave.

The Danse Macabre.

You could hear it in Hiroshima, Dresden, London, Nanjing, Leningrad, Belgrade, Tokyo.

The shadow people singing each to each.

Death's slow dance. Dance of the transmigration of souls

from biology back to chemistry and transiting on to silence.

Maybe the cellist was trying to trigger our empathy.

Pablo Casals could trigger empathy for the history of the world.

But this guy. Two minutes in, he's pointing to his busker's cup.


III. Gigue

The jig is up, Bach seems to say, his music savage soothing.

Who can listen to these notes and not be delivered

back to the small death of silence that awaits us

when the nerve ends are still and the battle of thinking is over.

Bach, the progenitor, in more ways than one,

was the sole canon for so many people for so long,

and in these intimate chamber pieces, cellos

that groan and whisper, the music itself aches

like the scintillations of some abstract expressionist

battle for being out of nothingness. At least

that's what I heard Sunday mornings in church

in the months leading up to my First Communion,

and hear still, long after any useful God has departed.

But the collection basket still goes around

in the false silence of the false soul.

Note: I didn't end up giving any money to the cellist depicted, but it did inspire me to sign up for a membership at the Violoncello Society of New York! for $50. Music 1, War Nil.

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Oceania.

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