Harry Youtt is a frequently published poet and writer of short fiction, twice nominated for Pushcart prizes. He is the author of several poetry collections and chapbooks. He is also a long-time instructor in the UCLA Ext. Writers’ Program, where he teaches courses and workshops in fiction writing, poetry and memoir.
“Anyway, my dreams have all been coming in music,”
the old man told me, last time I went to see him.
He said communication wasn’t worth the words it took after all.
How long? I asked, as if what he said was making any sense.
“The past week or so,” he said. “When it began,
my first thought was:
So this is what it is to be a Right Whale!”
He’d never talked about whales before.
Let alone, Right Whales.
’Said he’d heard about ’em on the Discovery Channel.
’Said it wasn’t anything like talking.
It was music you didn’t think about at all;
it just came to you, and with a message that
didn’t have to be pieced out to be understood.
You simply knew from hearing it.
And when you wanted to be understood,
you simply sent a melody out that got your point across
“No—not your point,” he said,
there was no such thing as a point.
When you sent your melody out it was you,
in the air, going out somehow, so that
what the other heard in the melody was you,
at your depths, you at your essence,
you entering the other person
so that everything was the same,
and nothing of meaning was ever lost in translation.
“Talk about love!” he said, and I couldn’t believe it was
the same guy I knew, talking.
I asked him what exactly it was that he dreamed.
He said he didn’t remember and anyway—
it would be impossible to put into words
Who else was in the dream? I asked him.
He said he didn’t remember that either
and besides it wasn’t important.
Might have been a multitude.
And I told him I’d never heard him talk like that.
“And you never will again,” he said.
“That’s just about all I have to say.”
And the life of the soul is a Song
you don’t have to study to play.
Each of us finds parts of the melody
or harmonies, or counterpoint.
The notes for your part find you.
Our melodies inspire each other.
All you need is to find your instrument.
We waste time trying the wrong instruments.
But when we’ve chosen right, the notes come out
as if they’d always been inside, which they were,
lined up and only waiting for encouragement.
Listen, and you hear everybody’s music,
all around you, all the time,
especially in silence.
The life of the soul is a song
that we play without thinking.
Sometimes mine is the top of a fugue
that will find you playing beneath.
Sometimes a counterpoint,
sometimes only a solo riff
you have to let me play alone
as you tap your feet to keep the beat.
When we dance to the melody of another,
that of course is love.
Sometimes we dance without moving a muscle.
The life of the soul is a song.
And we must tell each of the others,
one by one, that we can hear their music.
HOW THE MUSIC FIRST BEGAN
’Started with a borrowed trombone
in a dusty, taped-together case
you opened with a snap on the flip-top cover
that flopped open from the bell-end
on a tattered leather hinge.
The boy could reach down the plush darkness,
grab a cross brace, and out came
the tarnished instrument bell-first
and only slightly dented,
mainly at the back curve.
Then he’d reach in to grab the slide
and couple it to the bell,
with everything curving then
every which way akimbo.
Next, the mouthpiece, like a chunk
of solid silver, snapped from its own pouch
and clunked into the slide.
Finally there he was,
balancing the whole thing on a shoulder,
ready to encounter
any noise he could make with it.
All of this down from the attic
of a neighbor, two doors down,
and happy to be done with it.