The room is intent on the pianist’s work.
Should you sneeze, the whole hall would stir
and the afternoon turn into the morning buzz
of irritated commuters and hurried young men
convinced that the mission on which they are intent
will relieve a world besieged by aches and pains.
So the sneeze, which would have brought you
dollops of pleasure and pain in equal measure
is conquered, subdued, suppressed, pulled back
into the dark interior. But then the itch starts,
insistent, intolerable, mysterious, and makes
you want to squirm, to rub your back the way
an old horse rubs his flank on a post. You shift
in your seat the little that concert-goers are allowed
but that doesn’t do, only intensifies the need
the more impelling, the more it’s thought upon.
And then, like that, it’s gone.
You’ve four minutes to go before it’s done,
this haunting work you’ve come
a distance in your life to hear. Needled
by fears your private devils will awake again
and together, a bright duet of sneeze and itch,
you do what men have done since Brahms’s time.
You go to sleep. Discreet as a winter dawn
you fall off, as men do at important moments,
and into the music of your dream comes a snort,
wanting out. Noble swineherd. You try to cut it off
but your neighbor knows. She can hear the snuffle
of a spirit at war with his breath.
The sound is just enough to wake the sneeze
and stir the itch, which now has multiplied
and threatens disaster whole and entire.
As anyone you know might guess, the day
does not end well. The juddering horse
of yourself needs, more than harmony, his feed.
Originally appeared in Dogwood 2008.