Kaleidoscope and Harpsichord

A Poetic Prose piece by Donal Mahoney

As I’ve told my wife too many times, the meaning of any poem hides in the marriage of cadence and sound. Vowels on a carousel, consonants on a calliope, whistles and bells, we need them all if a poem is to tickle our ears. Otherwise, the lines are gristle and fat, no meat.

Is it any wonder, then, my wife has had a problem, for decades now, with any poem I’ve given her to read for a second opinion. This is especially true when we both know the poem has no message and I simply want to hear the music, assuming there is some. Miles Davis made a living doing the same thing in jazz clubs. Why can’t I have a little fun and give it a try even if my instrument is words?

The other night in bed I gave my wife my latest poem to read. I said it was fetal, not final. Afterward she said that reading this poem was no different than reading all the others I had given her over the years. She had thought I’d improve by now. Maybe I should switch to fiction or the essay, she suggested, or else stick with editing the manuscripts of others since I had made a decent living as an editor for many years.

“You’ve been writing poetry for decades,” she said, “but reading a poem like this is like looking through a kaleidoscope while listening to a harpsichord.”

Point well taken, I thought, point well said. The nuns for whom I toiled all those years in grammar school would have liked my wife. They might have even recruited her to join their order.

Then I asked her what a man should do if he has careened for years through the caves of his mind spelunking for the right line for a poem only to hear his wife say that reading his poem was like “looking through kaleidoscope while listening to a harpsichord.”

Should I quit writing? Start drinking? After all I quit drinking when I started writing and I discovered that the hangovers from both were equally debilitating.

The following morning she said, “You should never quit writing.”

At that moment, she was enthroned at the kitchen table, as regal as ever in her fluttery gown and buttering her English muffin with long, languorous strokes Van Gogh would envy.

“You should write even more,” she said, “all day and all night, if need be. After all, my line about the ‘kaleidoscope and harpsichord’ needs a poem of its own. It’s all meat, no gristle, no fat.”

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