by Al Maginnes
Music builds itself, somehow, on numbers,
a house that rises
so naturally we forget it has architecture, a plan
that might be studied for years, but never mastered.
Years of practice and still the foundation might float
unanchored or the placement of fingers fail.
The small improvisations
that make an adventure of melody might slide by unheard.
play for years without learning to recognize the swerve
into a chord that shifts the tune’s field,
the way Einstein believed
planets might alter the focus
of gravity. Physics, after all, is built of numbers as well,
its long-limbed equations built to probe
the architectures of the universe.
Some know the bodies of instruments as well
who spend their energy charting the heavens, watching for
new eruptions among constellations they know like the
names of their children.
Last night, leaning against the stage,
if the guitar player saw the small brilliance of Venus,
measures encased in an instrument when he tipped his head back,
let his eyes roll shut and let his fingers stir a cauldron
that blossomed, then faded
into white noise that
swallowed all that lay before it.
If the drummer or keyboard player
missed a note,
time stumbled, then found its footing. Unlike gravity,
music is not shared equally.
There is no place I know where gravity differs to any degree we can measure.
But it is possible to tell the good player from the
to read who is playing and who is phoning it in for
For those who are scholars of nothing in particular,
one entertainment is watching those who know their
When one scientist’s book makes its argument for
one construction of the universe
while his friend
argues for another way of coercing the same arrangement
of space and time,
I find some joy in knowing
there is no final answer,
the way two pianists might
make different tunes of “Stella by Starlight.”
I’ve seen enough pictures of Einstein holding a violin
to wonder if anyone recorded
his playing. A search
through the dustbins of the internet told me
there was a recording of Einstein playing
Mozart’s Violin Sonata KV 378, but a little more reading
told me this recording was fake,
Einstein’s playing attributed
to Carl Flesch. Without anything to hear
and only the testimony of his wife and friends,
we are left
to wonder what constellations took shape while he played,
what new equations timed the age and velocity of
Did he conjure the humming between spheres that is
He would come from his study, pick up the violin
or sit at the piano and play, his mind revolving
in the deep reaches of this universe or the next one.
I can look at a page of sheet music or math problems
but read nothing,
but I know the sound of the music
when I hear it, even if its making remains as mysterious
as mathematics or the unreadable realms of stars.
Maybe all the universe is navigated
measures of the incorporeal waves that govern
time and space,
commanding that we age one-half breath
at a time. So each clock tick is both
a tallying up and a subtraction.
Even while your fingers
gain velocity over the keyboard, the instrument of
is pummeled by gravity, a pressure that remains
constant and uncounted.
We have all come awake
to a voice that stopped
just as our eyes opened, the secrets breathed away
the instant an eye registered light.
in that hovering where the body has
no particular beginning or end,
I’m struck by a line
ringing fire, and, for that moment, true as a chord.
I must decide whether to find a notebook and write it down
or believe it lingers through my single journey
Last time I did this I wrote, “Slow lunch.
Matches, Bring dolphins and worry,” a constellation
I will never navigate.
I retreated to the window,
where I counted a few houses still lit,
burning their way to or from the eternal dawn
where Einstein crafts a slow melody,
the start of a day’s mysterious universe.