Adagio, Unplayed, in D Minor

In a house with high ceilings

and attendant women in premature middle-age and flat, sensible shoes,

where old people come to wait it out

when there’s no more talk of ‘getting better’,

when time inflicts cruelties that relatives cannot bear to watch,

in a room opaque with the ever-present smell of failing kidneys, weakened bladders,

in a chair that does not face the window

with its view of blind, dark earth and choking weeds

and a bird table where no birds gather,

an old lady sleeps,

and in her sleep,

she plays an invisible violin.

Her knotted fingers press down urgently upon the ghosts of strings,

long since snapped,

as the other veined, papery hand grasps

the recollection of a bow, reduced

– by now – to kindling,

and she picks out the echo of an old song.

There’s memory in the muscles of those aged hands,

as they move, pale and sad and delicate

as the bleached bones of sparrows’ wings.

The brain may forget,

but some part of her remembers.

There’s instinct, running marrow-deep,

and in blood, made slow and heavy with time’s dragging sediment,

something pulses to a wistful, distant melody.

Her face, trampled by the callous boots of all those years,

tightens, pained, as she holds one long, quivering note.

I wonder what she’s playing,

as her fingers tense and tremble.

Maybe something fragile and tragic by Bach,

or ‘It Was A Very Good Year’,

moved from here

to some more dignified time,

when she and Sinatra were both still young.

I wonder if, in the dark and dusty auditorium

of unravelling memory, there is a spotlight,

if it shines on her.


That tune she wasn’t playing…

I can’t seem to get it out of my head.

And now,

the whole place echoes,

with the silence

of that one violin.


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