Jean L. Kreiling is the author of the recently published collection, The Truth in Dissonance (Kelsay Books, 2014). Her work has appeared widely in print and online journals, including American Arts Quarterly, The Evansville Review, Measure, and Mezzo Cammin, and in several anthologies. Kreiling is a past winner of the String Poet Prize and the Able Muse Write Prize, and she has been a finalist for the Frost Farm Prize, the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award, and the Richard Wilbur Poetry Award.
“Rooms by the Sea”
(after Edward Hopper)
“Rooms,” the title says, but it’s the room—
the spaciousness, or else the emptiness—
that challenges your eye. Sharp angles loom,
or grant sweet order to the airiness;
that placid ocean may suggest a swim,
or beckon to a jumper. And that nook
with art and furniture hints at the slim
domain of comfort, or it makes you look
more closely, with renewed appreciation,
at what brings you contentment. But it’s air
that most demands your careful contemplation—
that not-quite-vacant roomful of nowhere,
or somewhere: shadows, light, uncertainty,
an absence or a possibility.
Beethoven’s Work Ethic
Note: Quotations come from the composer’s “Heiligenstadt Testament,” a letter written to his brothers concerning his deafness.
Betrayed by his own ears, he might have quit,
but conscience and his craft would not permit
surrender— he had work to do. A fierce,
broad face glares from the portraits: dark eyes pierce
our own as if in fury, and that mane
of unkempt hair must have been pulled in pain
and dread. At just past thirty, horrified
by weakness that he felt compelled to hide,
he mourned the fading of that faculty
once marked by its superiority
(“perfection” was his word), and thought of leaving
this earth. Retreating to the country, grieving
for unheard music, he at last despaired
of cures. But in the same breath he declared,
“It seemed to me impossible that I
should leave the world”—his rage becomes a sigh—
“before I had brought forth all that I felt
was in me.” Praying for relief, he knelt
to “Providence,” and wondered if he’d know
“real joy” again. And so when we bestow
our praise on his quartets and symphonies—
produced despite his deepest agonies—
we’re celebrating work that saved a man.
He’d labored on—a builder with a plan,
a farmer with a field to plow and seed,
a sailor with a sky of stars to read—
while duly worshipped gods took back the gift
he thought he needed most. Though cast adrift
in outer silence, Beethoven still heard
the waves inside, and wrote them, undeterred
by deafness—and it turned out that he needed
persistence most. He persevered; he heeded
his own conviction that the world required
his “art”—the music still so much admired.
Asserting simply that he plied his trade
in earnest doesn’t cheapen what he made,
but amplifies the nebulous acclaim
that calls him “genius.” Few would doubt that name,
but we can also cite a plainer good,
a mortal virtue widely understood:
he worked hard. He used notes instead of nails,
reaped choruses instead of crops, trimmed sails
by stars that he discovered, and re-charted
old seas of newfound depth. Though broken-hearted,
he didn’t break. His creativity,
commanded by his will and industry,
would sing to joy. Rejecting suicide,
embracing an ambition laced with pride
and obligation, Beethoven kept breathing
and working, meanwhile sorrowing and seething.
Of course his genius merits reverence—
but so does his uncommon diligence.
Behind the Wheel
He’s at his best when he’s behind the wheel:
he’s competent and in control while driving,
a pleasure he’s been told old age may steal.
The truth is that he doesn’t always feel
so well, his knees and hips barely surviving
their waking stretch. But ah, behind the wheel,
he’s in his element; he can conceal
his tremor and bad heart, pretend he’s thriving,
pretend there’s nothing that old age can steal.
He beat his last citation on appeal—
reclaimed his license, which was like reviving
his manhood—and got back behind the wheel.
He knows the roads, and there’s no cause for real
concern about his skill. See? He’s arriving
on time and in one piece. Old age may steal
his hearing and his energy, but he’ll
be damned if it assaults him by depriving
him of his best. His time behind the wheel
will be the very last thing age will steal.