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MAY/JUN 2002

SHOSTAKOVICH STRING QUARTETS
selected poetic responses

by arwulf arwulf

Version with published layout (517mb .pdf)

 

Shostakovich String Quartet No.3 in F op.73 [summer 1946]

[allegretto]

we used to drink tea and talk about the future, remember?
joscha and nadzia would laugh and say so much without using words
just their eyes, remember? isnít it remarkable how much
stays with us as time rots on...

i thought i heard thunder.
remember how the chickens hated thunder
as much as we hated artillery

this is chambered music
each score is placed in a drawer
upon completion
i wonít even bother
trying to have this stuff
performed or even published
not now
what a peculiar position
to be in
everything we create
is subject to
official interpretation
and iíd rather have
no interpretation
at all
into the drawer
with this entire cycle!

[moderato con moto]

whatís that theyíre saying?
christ! havenít i been a good boy?
they have no idea...now my fiddles will mince around
in secretive tip-toe mincing steps
as if not to cause a ruckus
iím rubbing my head with both hands
i just want to be left alone
i havenít done anything wrong [allegro non troppo]

i can see them all commence to dance
when the directors say so
canít you?

every so often
the current gets switched on
and they all commence to dancing
on their knees

or even in their graves

at least a game on the field is honest:
one kicks the ball either
this way or that
and if we disagree with the way itís called
we can holler together in protest

[adagio]

but the rest of life seems to be much more irrational
iíve begun to sign my name to the most ridiculous statements
simply to get them to let me be

there comes a point at which
the natural response consists
of resignation,
to all appearances

you know the saying:
give Ďem the finger
but with your hand
deep down in
your pants pocket[moderato]

yes, moderation.
everything in moderation
especially moderation itself
i had a bit too much to drink
walked through the square to the park
it was very dark
the moon had waned
to nearly nothing up there
comrade stalin
has measured everything out
including insomnia
i have my share

once in the night shadows of the trees
i began to relax and breathe deeply
the vodka was still in my bones
but i felt better able to handle myself

i heard an owl
lit a cigarette
sat down
and rubbed my eyes

slowly the dance returned
in my head

i found myself smiling

but itís surely that strange smile iíve cultivated:
one corner up, one down.

 


Shostakovich String Quartet No. 7 in F Sharp Minor Op.108 [1960]

[allegretto]

my first wife, nina
was a nuclear physicist
she died of the cancer
radiation poisoning

do you really expect for me
to join the party? this
is still the bolshevik party
iím still not seeing socialism

havenít seen it yet, have you?
has anyone hereabouts?
has anybody here seen socialism?
iíve been waiting

[lento]

look at the way
iím floating
over the surface
of the street

nothing makes me hover in
this disconcerting way, not
touching the ground in spite
of enormous gravitational

pull, nothing does me this
way the way your party does
and always has. can you see
why i never joined? fuck.

[allegro]

here i will scribble my name
and exactly how i feel today
if anyone has to ask what
this means, i am very sorry.

everything means something.
[didnít mayakovsky say so?]
i cannot put it more clearly.
this one takes not very long.

if you wish to understand
i want you to look for the
diminutive figure whose
feet cannot touch the earth.

wearing a raincoat and
puffing a cigarette, reading
pravda and wincing in the
broad daylight, here i am.

stalin is seven years dead
yet i am subject to his
centrifugal antigravitation
and try as i may

i cannot reach the ground

 


Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor Op 110 [July 1960]

[largo]

my name is dmitri shostakovich
i am a citizen of the union of
soviet socialist republics. i have
been asked to write something for

the victims of fascism and war
i am also writing for myself, as
this could be my last will and
testament if i do myself in

which is precisely what i want
to do at this point. yes i saw
the ruins of dresden but i
saw petrograd become leningrad

and the siege wherein they ate
the dogs and cats; i saw the
world through eyes of typhoid,
eyes of typhus staring out

[allegro molto]

and now at long last coerced
to join the communist party here in russia
óparty of stalin to this very dayó
nothing like what it should be

nothing like what they struggle
to create in chile, in guatemala
tangled up in cubaís militarism
none of this succeeding the way

we thought it could so long ago
instead of democratic socialism
we had bolshevism, party of
shoot them in the stem of

the brain, party of torture
vsevolod meyerhold
tortured for six months
before allowed to expire

and his wife stabbed to
death dozens of punctures
stabbed in her eyeballs
this is the party of stalin

[allegretto]

to this very day and i
am vomiting alone again
my head is spinning i am
uterly despondant

i cannot separate any of it
thereís nothing
dividing
whatís happened
from whatís happening
right at this moment
thereís nothing
no division

[largo]

it is only
a continuum
a series of
variations

on the same
theme as slew
all the mensheviks
and old bolsheviks

and so many
of my good friends
i feel it in my
heart and lungs

this is the real
essence of largo
right here in
my suicide

the suicide
i so badly
want from
myself

itís the
mass mind
and heart
brought

in to me
and sent
back
out

in
this
way
out

[largo]

punching my fist
into my palm
crying
good to cry

hardly ever
cry itís good
to cry hardly
ever let myself

cry itís good to
cry this way
can you hear
it yet can you?

do i have to
write it on
the moon
for you to see?

if i put myself
out of this body
this shall be
my last word

how much can
a person bear?
how much do
you expect me to?

i lay myself
down by the
river i lay
myself down
by the river
i lay myself
down until
the breath
is gone
and no one
will know

 


Shostakovich String Quartet No. 12 in D Flat Major Opus 133 [1968]

all twelve notes of the octave
says the cello
the four of us will discuss
without hesitation
without too much hesitation
just enough
we will discuss as we see fit
the face of the day
and know that we see
the power play
clearly spelled out
unmistakable
either shoot them
or have them simply vanish

judge me not by what
you think i do for why
you think i do it
judge me not

do you have any idea
what weíre under?

let me
allow me
permit me
for twenty minutes
to establish
in your mindís ears
and the lungs of your heart
exactly what
iím still living through
letís get it right
letís be explicit
here in the drawer
letís speak plainly

i   a m   s t i l l   a f r a i d
a             a               a  
m             m               m  
                                 
s             s               s  
t             t               t  
i   a m   s t i l l   a f r a i d
l             l               l  
l             l               l  
                                 
a             a               a  
f             f               f  
r             r               r  
a             a               a  
i   a m   s t i l l   a f r a i d
d             d               d  

i was raised in this manner
not by my family but by the
benevolent state i was raised to be

like this

like this

and this

and this like this

like this

torture is terrible
even in your own language
whether they torture you
in german or in russian
or english for that matter
torture in french

itís still torture
like meyerhold was tortured
or the sustained, more gradual torture
out here like me in the street
torture is torture
even in your own home town

even if you donít shoot me
behind the ear
my ears still ring
with the essence of shooting
and anyone with conscience
has the same auditory problem

someone is laughing
under the concrete
someone called my name
iím leaving the square
hands in my pockets
i bit my cigarette in two

spat spat spat
spat on the pavement
but cannot expel
the life my mouth is full
of this kind of a life
cannot spit it out

it has bonded with
the orbitals of my jaws
my palette is painted
with the life iíve led
the lives weíve lived
my teeth are ringing with it

my tongue is silent
behind my lips, silent
with witness and mute
with having left itself
immobile during each
segment of my time here

time in our bodies
should be precious
i wanted to savor
every evening
but instead i swallowed
each night, whole

my teeth could not
penetrate the surface
of the night, and
my throat needs must
dilate to allow
the night to slip down

into my stomach
where every honest effort
is made to digest
the night, each hour
every fucking minute
wedged in my guts

see how the string
vibrates to mimic
my gizzard
listen to my gizzard
i have the guts
of a rooster

i wasnít born this way
the government
performed a transplant
whereby the cockís gut
was planted inside of me
i have a soviet gizzard

when stalin planted
chicken guts inside
his citizenry
it was to enable us
to peck the ground
and live on scratch

have you seen the rooster
up all night staring
both ways at once
did you know that
insomnia is from
reptilian ancestors of birds?

i become a dragon
breathing smoke at 2 AM
i sit perfectly still
except for ashes falling
and at dawn
hear me cry out!

but when they come
to see whoís generating
all these noises
i am silent and immobile
youíd never know
it was i who had crowed

i crow like a crow
i hide very much like a beetle
the rain collects
in my pockets and nothing
can be resolved
there are no solutions

i sit unblinking
a weary little reptile
a wary little bird
never do i blink
i have swallowed
my own voice

i let it out
through the drawer
where chamber music
waits out the siege
the siege of khrennikov
the siege of brezhnev

my eyeballs crawl
out from behind
my spectacles
my eyeballs
end up perched
up by my cowlick

i am watching
those who are watching
they are watching
but i saw them first
mine eyes never close
i am watching too

i have become a sphinx
i can perch here
longer than lenin, even
longer than lenin
i am perched here
long as you like

like it or not
here i am

 


Shostakovich String Quartet No. 15 in E Flat Minor Op. 144 [1974]
[elegy (adagio)]

fifteen
is the devil card
in the tarot

this in translation
means: coercion

the curtailment
of oneís expression

by another

who maintains
controls thusly

iím leaving fifteen
symphonies and
fifteen quartets

often nowadays
i feel as though
iíve got fifteen
fingers on each
hand, all numb
and growing cold

there is a sense
of projection
my voicings will
move out from
here to far
beyond my
present reading

sometimes
iím thinking
four dimensionally

itís disconcerting

but also wonderful

and iím leaving the
echoes of all whoíve
worked with me
either directly
or in solidarity

anatoli kuznetsov
for instance

far in the future
from where i sit today
an american is writing
poetic responses to my work

he tells me, twenty seven
years between us, that
kuznetsovís book
babi yar
had a powerful effect
upon him when he was
a boy of ten years

it is gratifying to hear this

[serenade (adagio)]

and i think of ukranian
collusion and anti-semitism

i think of officialdom

and all the varieties of dissent
not everyone may act openly

or, honestly now, flamboyantly

we all must do what we can
that is the fabric of principle

[how often it is frayed and torn]
 
khrennikov, like zhdanov
hated to have his teeth on edge

that is, if music needled them

[intermezzo (adagio)]

but look at what failed, in life
to rile them! no teeth on edge

in the face of all the madness

what was it my music
called to mind for them?

[nocturne (adagio)]

i mustnít allow these ideas
these questions and contradictions

to cause me any more pain

and yet i have a true conscience
a russian conscience have i

this much you may hear plainly

i am silent
as i write

but i am
never fully

silent

[funeral march (adagio molto)]

what is silence?

particularly in my country?

i am silent
yet certainly not

i will never be silent

surely you understand

such a condition is impossible

especially looking ahead

i will never ever be silent

perhaps i should feel

satisfaction thereof

[epilogue (adagio)]

but how did this blood
stay in my veins
all of these years?
under such circumstances?

while so many others
known to me intimately
and absolutely anonymous
to my understanding
all of them taken
and bledóslowly
or all too suddenly

how odd is fate
to have shuffled our deck
in this way. i cannot
pretend to begin to
understand

fifteen
is the number
of curtailment
and coercion
i will not be
taken down
into invisibility
and oblivion
without that sure
and uncompromised
continuum
we cannot know
exactly now, but
it is certain
i will live
tomorrow

my
strings
will
sound

tomorrow

goodbye for now

                                                                                     for Ted Harley
                                                                                    arwulf aug 2001
                                                                                    grand marais, michigan, usa
                                                                                    [revised jan 2002]

 

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