Honoring the Musicians

Whatever may be going through our heads
in time to your noted bowing and scraping,
our faces all express the naked, rapt
stupidity which more than other arts
yours can evoke, wearing our masks away
till pride relaxes and hypocrisy
forgets his knowing smile--we might be cows
rather than cousins of Mme. Verdurin.

The vacuous expressions of lovers, mourners,
children and pregnant women, people asleep,
racial and strange and sullenly at ease
as African faces or roughly featured stones
with looks eroded in the rain of time,
those were the faces waiting in our faces
for your divisions to divide us from
ourselves till we lose the burden in the ground.

Lascivious dances, melancholy songs,
whose right articulation strikes us dumb,
these shake us in a core that wit forgets
and self wants to deny, in tomb-town where
the dancing-steps are beating in the streets,
where maskers carry away both flower crown
and flowerless torch; from such unsounded chambers,
heartbeaten, how have the dead comforted us!

Howard Nemerov (1920-1991)