Note to Antonín Dvořák

Maestro, I am writing to tell you

that your serenade in D minor

with its stretches of martial confidence

then some sweet wanderings of the woodwinds

 

has not really brought me to the edge of anything,

yet compared to the inane movie

being shown on this long flight to Seattle,

listening to your music has made me a better

 

person than that other self,

so slack of jaw and fishy of stare,

who would have watched the movie to its end

oblivious to the startling 33,000 feet of air below.

 

I never visited your tomb in Prague

or even the site of your former apartment

on East 17th Street before it was demolished

to make room for a hospital for sufferers from AIDS.

 

So I am thanking you here for the lift

of a tune to ride with over the clouds

high above towns bisected by roads,

and fields with their plowed circles.

 

You remind me of a canary

I once stared at for an unusually long time

and the communion that developed between us

as we gazed into and out of the unhooded cage.

 

Time well spent, I thought,

as the bird broke it off and began to peck

at the image of his twin in a little oval mirror,

leaving me to return to the many ways

 

we have concocted to waste our lives --

ten thousand at least, wouldn’t you say,

Maestro, with your baton, your furious pencil,

and the closet where all your dark clothes used to hang.

 

Billy Collins is the former poet laureate of the United States. His most recent collection of verse is Horoscopes for the Dead.

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