Jonathan Taylor’s Musicolepsy

© Image by nickrphotography.com

© Image by nickrphotography.com

 
 
 
As well as his poetry collection, Musicolepsy (Shoestring Press, 2013), Jonathan Taylor is author of the novel Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012), and the memoir Take Me Home: Parkinson’s, My Father, Myself (Granta Books, 2007). His short-story collection, Kontakte and Other Stories, will be published by Roman Books in mid-2013. He is editor of the anthology Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (Salt, 2012).

Jonathan is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montfort University in Leicester in the United Kingdom, and co-director of arts organisation and small publisher, Crystal Clear Creators. Originally from Stoke-on-Trent, he now lives in Leicestershire with his wife, the poet Maria Taylor, and their twin daughters, Miranda and Rosalind.
 
 
 
 Musicolepsy
 
 
 
Joy
 
     After Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia
 
 
At sixty, she woke into a non-stop Ode to Joy
and couldn’t switch off these L.P.-ish hallucinations,
playing at the wrong r.p.m.s, squeaking like a toy,
or yawningly slow, tired from incessant celebrations.

Beethoven stalked her like Pink Panther’s cloud
to Post Office, hairdresser’s, on the phone,
her nerve-deafness, once so quiet, now loud,
filled with O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!

G.P.s and consultants gave her E.E.G.s, M.R.I.s
that showed blossomings in the basal ganglia
up to the thalamocortical systems, musical lies
scored for chorus and full orchestra.

They put her on gabapentin, risperidone,
checked for cerebral aneurysms,
gave her quetiapine, prednisone,
an analyst tried therapy for narcissism,

but nothing worked, and she felt stampeded
by pressing Brotherhood, drunk from Nature’s wine,
recitatived, prestoed and allegro energicoed
into submission and marched into line.

Forced to ear-drink at the Brüsten der Natur,
she remembered nursing long ago
as a young girl: “You’re so mature,”
they’d said, but life had never felt so slow

before or after, when she’s tried returning
to college and its choir – no longer wanted:
“You’ll need time for grieving not learning,”
they’d said, meaning: forget life, get husbanded,

have another. But she’d thought she hadn’t
liked the first, till too late, Beethoven-haunted,
Joy’s timpani seemed more like a mallet,
the trumpets like tannoys, feedback-distorted;

and, as time went on, the ear assaults shortened,
no longer whole recitatives or verses, and soon
all that was left was Tochter and Götterfunken,
those sporano As, over and over again.

Still the music never reached its end,
the coda and As stretching to eternity,
as with Schumann, who was maddened
by that note, sirened by Angels into lunacy,

or those endless As in Shostakovich Five:
“You will rejoice, you will rejoice, you will rejoice,”
beating you with a Joy-stick till you’re barely alive,
and you know you do not have a choice.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Things Not to Talk About in Ante-Natal Classes:
A Simple Guide for Fathers-to-be
 
 
Caesareans, bleeding,
bottle-feeding,
pain,

intensive care, depression,
hypertension,
prematurity,

because it’s a snyonym for pain, poetry,
religion in case one couple is evangelical,
Darwinism and certainly not the Fittest and Survival,
cosmology because everyone’ll think you’re eccentric,
politics, global economics, sex, race, films, music,

everything else.

If in doubt, sit behind your partner slightly
smiling redundantly, embarrassed mildly
by what your sperm has done.

Afterwards, take your partner by the hand,
help her to the car, close doors, central lock
and chatter together like a pair of puppet-socks
about anything you want.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The Critic As Baby
 
 
Watching my baby daughter turning
pages of Lost Puppy Finds a Home,
patiently, steadily,
as if she were Adenoid Hynkel
spinning the globe,
pointing where to strike next,
reminds me of my father toward the end
turning pages of a TV dinosaur book,
pictures upside-down,
monsters of the Cretaceous inverted,
hanging onto the world by talons,
Hebrew-like, world and history turning backward
from apocalyptic comet to T. Rex to protozoa,
turning, turning, back to world as lava,
then forward again to the end credits –

and it would be all too easy to see
such turning as mechanical echo of forgotten skill,
to see my daughter’s turning
as pre-echo of forgetting
before she can even remember,
too easy to criticise
when all we in-betweeners do is the same,
perhaps worse, in our turnings forward, backward,
our atomising Middlemarch and Pound,
just as I look up and find my daughter
shredding Lost Puppy, Eliot, dinosaurs
into an efflorescence of snowflakes,
an intertextual blizzard,
but with more pleasure,
and perhaps more beauty.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Tantalus-by-Proxy
 
 
On a verandah in Cypriot high summer
my daughter is threatening to eat petals.

          On a sofa ten years ago
          my father keeps threatening the edge.

On a verandah in Cypriot high summer
my daughter keeps toddling to the petunias.

          In a living room ten years ago
          my father keeps shuffling to get up.

On a verandah in Cypriot high summer
I keep putting my wine down, getting up.

          In a living room ten years ago
          I keep groaning from the piano stool.

On a verandah in Cypriot high summer
I keep taking the petals from her hand.

          In a living room ten years ago
          I keep pulling him back: “Stay still.”

On a verandah in Cypriot high summer
I sit back down again, sip the wine.

          In a living room ten years ago
          I sit back down again, stroke a discord.

But on a verandah in Cypriot high summer
my daughter is trundling to a flower box.

          On a sofa ten years ago
          my father keeps threatening the edge …

… and I know I’ll have to put down my wine
          or leave the piano stool again, again,

and with inch by painful inch of toddling
          and shuffling and edging and threatening

comes that creeping horror
that the precipice of sofa ends
only in the Underworld,
that caring for someone
is Sisyphian in its circularity,
even Tantalusian, or at least
Tantalusian-by-proxy,
the seemingly endless repetition of the
cared-for almost getting the dangerous
or poisonous or self-harmful
thing he or she wants –
to eat rainbow petals,
to escape the safety of a sofa
for a potentially hip-breaking,
          ankle-twisting,
                    nose-shattering
                              floor –

and you the carer are condemned
to be Hades,
forever taking away
what Tantalus thinks
Tantalus wants.
 
 
 
 
from Musicolepsy (Shoestring Press, 2013).

Order Musicolepsy here or here.

Visit Jonathan’s website.

Read three poems at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact.
 
 
 
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