Speculative Poetry About Music
edited by Diane Severson
Table of Contents
Editor’s Introduction • Diane Severson
Ann K. Schwader • Siren Stars
Deborah Guzzi • Golden Disks and Whale Clicks
Gary Every • The Last Space Shuttle
Ruth Berman • Herschel harmony
Renée M. Schell • Destination Vienna
Lark Beltran • Timeslip Serenade
F.J. Bergmann • Audible
Marge Simon & Mary Turzillo • Eolian Conscientia
Christina Sng • The War that Never Happened
Alex Harper • I have heard the Martians singing
Mari Ness • The Binding
Adele Gardner • Farewell to Avalon
Jane Williams • a hum of angels
John Grey • Sky Music
Steven Withrow • The Sun Ships
Jean-Paul Garnier • Interval
John Philip Johnson • The Truth of How it Sounded
Deborah P Kolodji • eerie notes
Herb Kauderer • a distant air
P.S. Cottier • Miles & Beyond
LeRoy Gorman • danse macabre roster
Matt Quinn • Requiem
for the escape of Voyager 1
Past solar pause, the siren stars
are singing with a voice of fire
to humankind’s first avatar
in this frontier between desire—
our singing with a voice of fire—
& data confirmation. Now,
in this frontier between desires,
our home star sings us onward: how,
but data confirmation? Now
as shocked electrons resonate,
our home star sings us onward. How
must we respond? Accelerate?
As shocked electrons resonate
to humankind’s first avatar,
we must respond; accelerate
past solar pause, to siren stars.
—Ann K. Schwader
Golden Disks and Whale Clicks
mind song riffs
joining the back beat
drums of black thunder
then the sky opens
the landing was luminous
off gassing from the heat shield
rainbowed across the spectrum of light
the Glieseians tongued the surface
of the audio generator
Voyager’s golden disk long gone now
was transposed across the film of galactic plasma
the taste of whale and bird song on their tongue
enthralled them though they had no notion of
whales or birds
mind song riffs scroll behind opaque orbs
joining the back beat
nature clicks woodpecker tunes
tympanic membranes shiver at the base of
retractable body hair
drums of black thunder roll
past helmetless crowns
percussing their brain stems
then the sky opens
Sol was a black dwarf they were too late
but still the songs sang to him
Cam tongued the plasma film
once more and reentered interstellar
The Last Space Shuttle
The last space shuttle mission
drops into earth’s atmosphere
a giant burning ball of fire
piloted not by astronauts or even cosmonauts
but by the pioneering rock band Led Zeppelin
as Jimmy Page’s fingers slide down the strings
shredding that fret board.
The heat shields shatter in the stratosphere,
astronautical debris splattering across the earth
calamitous collisions occurring on every continent and ocean.
The rigors of reentry cause the last space shuttle to shudder
as it returns to earth in a beautiful meteor shower,
Robert Plant shrieking and wailing
like a screaming shooting star.
Bonzo Bonham keeps the beat rocking steady
and the pedal to the metal
rocketing that last shuttle full blast.
It drops from the sky like a dreaded dead dirigible,
falling like a zeppelin made of lead,
led by gravity to an inevitable destiny
wheels squealing as they touch the runway
rock and roll crew burnt to a crisp
celebrating their psychedelic journey amongst the stars
The upright walking apes on the planet they left behind
bounce their heads to that classic rock and roll beat
too busy dancing to ever dream of returning to the stars
just dancing and dancing on their lovely planet
and waiting for a comet to come.
Violin oboe organ
For his sister to sing
Composition led him
Took him to shaping mirrors
Brother and sister
Watched the nights
In the turning hours
Frederick William found a planet
Never before seen
Found new comets
Turning from music
They could hear
They watched the music
Of the spheres.
Cruising in low earth orbit
I travel through the cob-webbed centuries.
Falling through Austrian skies
over the wide river he called Donau,
still blue in places, I bring retrovirals
to the great composer, his threatened inner ear.
From the threshold of his rooms on the Bastei,
uncommon chords on the fortepiano.
With the urgent tale of unthinkable loss,
the counter-tale of pills and compounds,
I interrupt the virtuoso. Touching aluminum alloy,
touching the plastic of my sleeve,
he believes. Swallows the small round
bitterness and sharp-edged fear.
Then—to the keyboard again.
Ground control shrills with an urgent call,
but broken chords pin me to stucco walls.
A strange gull with a black head
skits from cobblestone to cart.
I hear the key of F dragged apart
a half step at a time, until a hole opens up
and the tonal system collapses.
Vienna closes in around me,
the clamor of the vegetable monger,
the smell of manure in the streets.
I send the spacecraft back empty
because there is something
about a composer, the way he pulls
the notes through your hair, that makes
the whereabouts of the home key uncertain.
—Renée M. Schell
Some fragments of an ancient pot
lie scattered in the sand.
The design around the broken spout
forms a jaunty little man.
Sharp is his nose, the lash-starred eyes
black-painted upon cream.
He holds a flute to puckered lips.
What music was his theme?
O for just a hint
of a timeslip serenade!:
The melodies once played,
the rituals once obeyed.
The furtive come with probing rods
beneath the midnight moon,
and assorted relics ferret out;
a million shards lie strewn.
That fisher-culture by the sea
where many died so young—
what freakish gods adorned their faith?
What hymns to them were sung?
In my mind, I’d hear
that haunting flute of bone,
the panpipes’ pearls in sound,
the trumpet-conches blown …
Drum-thunder shakes the ground,
and sea’s dull cannonade.
I´d hear what the ages drowned
in that timeslip serenade.
In the beginning it was all light and sound, the music
of the spheres sliding down an entropic thermocline,
octave by octave, to a microwave hiss. Whatever we
hadn't heard before had to be invented: stick on rock,
taut rawhide drumhead, oud, theremin, Stratocaster.
A device that fits in a pocket or the palm of a hand,
with an emission spectrum stretching over a century
into the past, a repertoire of instruments so ancient
they were reconstructed from desiccated fragments
found in the tombs of pharaohs. Some tracks include
nothing but the songs of whales, propagated through
a liquid medium rather than air; some are recordings
of deeper sounds, the slow slip of plate boundaries,
the dripping from the tip of a stalactite. And now
we are listening outward in the radio water hole,
waiting to be wowed by a stellar performance,
hoping they'll love those golden notes we send
to the galaxy's backstage door.
Somewhere a bird with a lyre-shaped tail warbles
exactly like a phaser firing. Somewhere a weapon
hums quietly to itself like a sleek pet purring,
its charge at 100 percent.
The song at midnight
began soft, beseeching,
but burningly sweet, as if from some other star.
the moon flickering through clouds
sunlight on a child's hair
The volume so low at first
the people thought it a hymn in their heads
something each had heard long ago,
that song that makes you first realize
that all things die eventually,
that you will therefore die,
but because of the brave music,
death is right, it is fine.
homages to dead heroes
a canticle, a requiem, a dirge
Not human voices, but canny, wise even.
And the song grew louder
as the chorus swelled
joined by sea creatures, bats, blind frogs,
insects with human eyes, and yes, angels,
accelerando accompanied by Bosch
a world of dreams and nightmares,
as forms flicker and change within notes
angels with throats made of molten metal.
Their harmonies drilled into human ears,
a wire strung too tight,
black noise behind telephone silence, except
louder and loudest,
and people tried to make out the words.
Some began to preach the words
that apes could sing hosannas
but they were just sounds,
there was no sense to them
just the smothering membrane of song,
a cloud too loud to be music
more like jet engines
pelting, irradiating, throbbing,
as it drove even old men mad,
and mere humans lay on the ground
twisting to escape the music, or maybe to join it,
to get inside it, to let it inside them,
though it screamed, it burned,
like electricity in your forehead exploding forever,
gaining forte, volcanic
as a revolution of exponentials,
a demonic ensemble
and then it crescendoed:
Ears bled, eyes shriveled, song seized tongues,
and all men and women joined the chorus
the chorus coaxing death, insisting.
except me and some others
deaf from birth.
the lucky ones,
We had felt the thrumming
had seen the folk convulsing on ballroom floors.
Fear drew us together
clutching at phantoms of an unholy opera
we were not privy to attend
Now we are left
and nobody can describe the song
but we must bury those bodies
anointed with death's perfume
and hope that the song does not get in our heads
though I begin to hear it
even as my wife described it
talking with her quick fingers.
beyond the cochlea's fluid,
Munch knew it as a scream
in blood red clouds
I run to the caves
which will not hide me.
—Marge Simon & Mary Turzillo
Previously appeared in Sweet Poison (Dark Renaissance Press, 2013)
The War that Never Happened
We loaded our guns.
They sharpened their twinned pincers.
My son ran to us.
He played “Moonlight Sonata,”
They clicked and left us alone.
I turned to my son.
“How did you know?” I asked him.
He answered simply,
“Music is the language of
Peace and love. They know it too.”
I Have Heard the Martians Singing
I have heard the Martians singing
in the isolation ward—rousing
and martial songs.
I worried that our generals
would think they were battle cries
and order the singers killed as threats
to planetary security.
But when I asked the Martians
what the songs were they said they were laments
beseeching Death to care for those who went ahead
to the dusty valley that is their heaven.
So I asked them what a war song sounded like.
They sang. It was the saddest thing I've ever heard.
Do your enemies weep when you sing it? I asked.
There are no enemies
when that is what war sounds like, they said.
I suggested they sang it to our generals
but the Martians said the generals would think
it was a trick to make humanity soft, so they could invade,
and slaughter us. It would only make things worse.
We are the generals of Mars, they told me, so we know.
I asked them then if they could teach me the song,
but they said the only way to learn it
is to go through the final war
and be the last survivors on a ruined planet,
the remnants of your race, hoping for nothing now
but a dust-strewn final peace.
Now when I'm at home and the news comes on
and our leaders bang the military drum
I can't help but hear the tune underneath,
the song that one day our generals will sing
too late to learn the lesson of its words.
He bound her soul
to the harp. The only way
to end the pain. He pressed his hand
against the wood, ran
fingers down the quivering strings.
Sing. A whisper. Sing for me.
The harp shivered in the wind.
Night fell. He dreamed
of bone and wood, of silver strings,
of her hand upon his own,
her voice against the rain.
Sing. A whisper. Sing for me.
The harp quivered in the wind.
Farewell to Avalon
I walk between the trees;
The grass cries in the breeze.
The sky is bright, a bird should light
Upon that branch with ease;
But no one will come near,
For no one else is here;
My sorrow clings as sad, I sing
Farewell to Avalon.
The leaves are wet with dew;
The flowers, gold in hue.
And yet the seas, with brisk, loud breeze
About me call me too--
Though on this faery isle
I've lived a little while,
My time is spent, my heart 'tis rent--
Farewell to Avalon.
It's early in the morn,
My heart has oft been borne
Upon the wings of joy by things
That nature has adorned.
But joy's not here today--
I can no longer stay.
One final walk, and I'll embark;
Farewell, sweet Avalon.
My bardic days are gone,
But still I turn to song.
Sad days have fallen on the halls
Of Camelot the strong,
And in the world of men
I must walk once again,
Leave beauty here that has no peer:
Farewell to Avalon.
Previously appeared in Eldritch Science, No. 3, Feb. 1989.
a hum of angels
When the last harp maker shuts up shop,
the angels start a soft beat of their own -
a primitive rhythm against feathered breasts.
They learn how to whistle at frequencies
as muted as Sirius is bright.
Slowly, carefully, they reach out to us,
echoing through the deepest recesses
of our dumb-animal sleep.
We wake with alien tunes vibrating
on the tips of our tongues.
We swallow the inexplicable urge to cry.
Words elude us.
We hum all day without knowing why.
What are constellations to most astronomers well may
Be my G clefs, crotchets on a lined astral music sheet
For Taurus etudes, Cygnus sonatas and the complete
Symphonies, one to infinity, of Andromedae
Played by rich solar wind instruments, vibrant gamma ray
Violins, supercluster brass, that play tunefully sweet
From dusk to dawn, eminently bright but soft and discrete
As long as no Philistine clouds gather to clog the way.
From the window of my attic, on any pristine night.
My telescope lenses conduct, my awed eyes see, then hear
Every note plucked or bowed or blown by flares of haloed light
Millions upon millions of miles distant but clear and near
Until the rising sun’s flaming drummers thrillingly smite
Their fiery bass coda, make the orchestra disappear.
The Sun Ships
Of the third of the three sun ships—
Rappahannock—only data remained,
Hieroglyphs siphoned off a fuse tube
For flight analysts’ consumption.
After the Porcupine imploded
And the mighty Susquehanna met
Her incendiary demise, the eyes
Of seven solar systems opened
To the possibility of defeat.
The stars are not ours to cross,
The Nikkto diplomats intoned.
And we, dregs of the coal worlds,
Would not finance another puncture run
Even for voting rights. What blights
And bombardments had emboldened us,
And what glorious horrors had deranged
The Rappahannock’s captain, who
Preserved in her voice log this riddle:
Teeth of fire, bands of black black black
Along the middle … devourer devourer …
The shadow tongues its fangs … why—
Before total silence consumed her.
We had a song about such creatures,
A lullaby for our babies, melodious
But meant to ward off nightmares,
So also mine-dark. The mines:
They were the sources of our fears,
They were the swallowers of light,
They were the toothed and hollow
Devourers of our hours. No shame
To sing of monsters when our home
Shot through with black black black
To the carved-out core. What’s more,
We had no song for dying, we had
No mourning-song for death. We,
Like the sun ship Rappahannock,
Dove straight into a coal-black hole,
As Nikkto lancers split the ground,
And down down down we drowned.
The stars were not ours to cross.
The stars were not ours to cross.
working the architecture of air
phase cancellation laid bare
analogous to light
could the stars spell across the sky
a spectral score so bright
did Heisenberg mean harmony
and by this, empty space
The Truth of How It Sounded
In truth, it sounded different to everybody.
Some said wind chimes, but there was no wind that day.
Others described it as submarine sonar,
and still others as the first notes
of an unseen orchestra coming into tune.
But I knew they were finally hearing
what’s been in my ears for a while now,
tones slid down some cosmic wireless,
arranged in an unscripted music,
inserted precisely inside our heads
by parties unknown.
I think it's what they used to call
the music of the spheres
before people got very careful
about what realities they confessed to,
about what objects they permitted themselves
to sense. For me, it sounds like perfect crystal goblets
struck, at a banquet, in the key of G.
I imagine some kind of other-worldly creatures,
with wings perhaps, or talons,
sitting at long, elegant tables,
flicking long, thin index fingers
against their glasses, provoking a strange syntax
to emerge from sounds they brought forth
from a different dimension.
No wonder it sounds so different to each of us,
given we’re interpreting as much as hearing.
Since that day, things are quieter,
but I think their number is rising. Meanwhile,
people are teaching themselves not to hear,
learning how to forget they heard anything,
saying, Was it so different, really? Isn’t everything
different in its own way? Was there really anything at all?
So we settle into the routine of our daily lives,
but what will happen when these creatures
finally break fully into our world?
We trust too much in our powers of denial.
Already, I get glimpses of them:
they’re big, like trees, covered in colors,
sparkling, strange colors, colors you can hear,
a glittering music, gathering its force
like a dawn peeling back the sky before it.
It is a music we will not endure.
—John Philip Johnson
of solar wind data
space colony prom
—Deborah P Kolodji
a distant air
music requires atmosphere
or some other medium
to conduct sound
music cannot exist in a vacuum
cannot reach ears without help
cannot move souls without physical connection
& yet music can transform
into a stream of digits
and travel between worlds
reassembling in a distant atmosphere
across the interruption of space
Miles and beyond
Look up and read the jazz
somehow noted in pure light,
flung like a trumpet solo,
or a percussionist speeding
beyond mundane marking
into celestial rhythm
that syncopates and flows.
Did the hands hurt
that made this rare notation?
may have made the lips bleed,
smearing some formations red.
Where colours and shape and stars
blend into one music—
the hips of the sky are moving.
Look up and taste the jazz.
danse macabre roster
Alone upon the surface of the moon,
a spaceman weeps. His helmet fills with tears
that form a sea to mock this man marooned
on barren rock. These thirteen airless years
now weigh upon his lungs with gravities
far greater than the moon’s. In the dark sky
of lunar night, the Earth is all he sees,
still smouldering its terminal goodbye.
The tears now penetrate into his suit,
electric circuits short out, start to spark.
His inter-planet radio, long mute,
blasts bursts of broken static from the dark,
as radiation from the distant Earth
is amplified by saline-coated wires.
The whining discord of white noise gives birth
to softer, subtler tones that now acquire
a melancholy hue and seem to whisper
fragments of some long-forgotten song.
The static falls away, the sound grows crisper,
a ghostly signal sings out clear and strong.
Unearthly violins eke out a theme
that’s then reprised by instruments unknown;
ethereal timbres stolen from his dreams
unite to sculpt a blue-green world of tone.
The music conjures smells of fresh-baked bread
and new-mown hay, then visions of the farm
his parents had, the church in which he wed.
He sees his bride release her father’s arm.
A shift of scene: his daughter’s laughter spills
in soft glissandos, catches winds that lift
a bread-bag kite above the sheep-grazed hills.
He weeps again, so grateful for this gift
of cosmic sound that’s conjured up the shades
of those he loves. The ending comes too soon.
As static breaks back in, the music fades.
His mirage dims. He’s pulled back to the moon.
And so he weeps again, but this time cries
as if to drown a world, can’t stand to face
the darkness twice, as everybody dies
once more, and he’s left emptier than space.