A History of Western Music

August Kleinzahler

April of that year in the one country
was unusually clear
and with brisk northeasterlies
‘straight from the Urals’.
Their ancient regent at long last succumbed
and laid to rest after much ceremony.
Sinatra was everywhere that spring,
in the hotel lobbies, toilets, shops –
‘Fly Me to the Moon’, ‘You Make Me Feel
So Young’, name it.
On TV a computer-generated Weimaraner
sang ‘I Did It My Way’
in a gravelly bar-room baritone.
He only weighed 130 lbs,
Ava Gardner was to have remarked,
soaking wet
but a hundred of those lbs was cock.

Whereas, the season before
in the other country to the west
no matter into which room you walked
it would have been the heart-wrenching adagietto
from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.
Only a small country,
it had endured a long, famously tragic history.
Still, it was more than passing strange,
not halfway through your plate of mussels,
the tremblingly adagietto,
showering you with the debris
of Gustav Mahler’s tortured soul. True,
wife Alma was a troublesome slut;
we know this of her and choose to forgive.
But what of this late Romantic excess,
this anthem of the Habsburg twilight,
in a cruelly served and windswept land?

We had only lately come over the Sally Gap
across the bogland, down through the glen,
and were walking slowly
along the Lower Lake of Glendalough.
Afternoon had turned toward evening,
and with it came a chill.
And with the chill a mist
had begun to gather over the lake.
This is a haunted place, I heard her say.
It was quiet then. We were the last ones.
Only a patch of birdsong. Only the wind.
Unheeded, from somewhere out of the blue,
Liberace, she said, and nothing more.
We continued on our walk and listened,
if just to the silence.
This would have been an hour St Kevin knew
and savoured
before retreating to the Gatehouse
and into the monastery for evening prayer.
One can imagine a stillness forming around him there
like those haloes of gold or ochre
that surround the sacred figures in ancient frescoes.

Much as they do with ‘Lee’
in one of his brocaded lamé jumpsuits
with its sequins catching the spotlights,
enorbing the performer in brilliant rays
as he smiles coquettishly to the Vegas crowd
then turns to deliver the first
in a series of thunderous glissandos,
somehow finding his way back
to a climactic, magnificently rousing chorus
of that million seller
and timeless classic,
‘Moon River’.