This poem, that I wrote more than a decade ago, inspired by the brief stumble of a gifted guitarist, seems relevant today as we strive to regain harmony. As the poem suggests, isn’t it the misplayed note that awakens and rededicates us to finding our way back to our song, back to the harmony intended by our nation’s “composers?”
Musician on Boston’s Blue Line*
The guitarist sits on an upended milk crate.
His case, open at his feet, displays strewn coins
and three one dollar bills.
One is crumpled.
He doesn’t see the money.
He doesn’t see any of us in transit.
His eyes are closed.
He’s playing Bach’s Seventh Violin Concerto.
He’s playing it with breathtaking virtuosity –
on the guitar! (Shhh).
Awed, riders have turned their backs on the tracks.
He’s flawless until he picks one wrong note,
One amid the textured, fugal tangle.
One note. Only one.
He winces, smiles, and whispers, “I’m sorry.”
To whom, I wonder, is he apologizing?
To us? To Bach?
To an ideal that exists only in his head?
One missed note out of thousands.
Yet he has apologized, not out of deference to us, I think,
but to the sound that should be.
The train screeches in, as Boston’s trains do.
A child, transfixed by the music, does not want to board.
How many strings do we pluck in life,
knowing our shortfall in the face of the ideal?
Our work is not to fall prostrate before the ideal,
collapsing in self-abnegation,
but rather to smile at the ideal saying, “Yes, yes, I know…”
and to keep on playing,
Boston, Massachusetts, December 2003
* from the book Through the Hourglass by Jack Calhoun