St. Chopin of the Vacant Buildings
By Ken Meisel
Alone and walking, my heart full of dejection,
and a woeful, tormented sense of indecision,
I stop, listen, and I hear someone
playing a piano in an old, vacated hotel.
This is when I am entangled in logic.
My consciousness, a liquid going too solid.
I am trying to believe in form over all else.
My face, engraved in matter’s bone-hold.
When I step on the small path to the hotel,
I hear the piano, and a voice calls to me.
It says: you want to hide from an unbound rhythm,
and it’s because you are so afraid to be alone—
he can see me, this man, through the open
window where he is playing a piano—
and to be alone is to face a face of vacancy.
You cannot survive without a face
of vacancy is what he is saying to me.
I stand there watching, listening to him.
Deceit is the mother of vanity, he murmurs,
his slender hands the color of rice vinegar
as he gently fingers the piano keys. His left hand,
pressing steadily in a faithful momentum,
his right hand, like an unfaithful bird,
roaming peripatetic across the remainder
of the piano keys. I hear him, before
I enter the broken doorway of this empty
hotel: its floors, ash-strewn, its walls,
stripped of wall paper and paint, and one
chandelier hanging down from the ceiling;
it hovers over the piano he’s playing.
All around him are sheets of musical chords.
Some have notes, some have words
in foreign languages. Some are improvisation.
You are a persona above an emptiness,
he says to me, and you’re lonesome for
one more reason to deceive yourself.
And that is how you will fail in art.
You falsify your emptiness by fear; it is not
your fault, he says, but you refuse to risk,
and this is your presumption, your dogma.
You refuse the call to unmask, he says.
He gazes beyond me as he asks me
do I believe in the arbitrariness of art.
I answer I believe in randomness, as well
as form. A swallow, high up in the roof beams,
darts low and flies intimate over us.
The last yellow rays of the afternoon
slant through the black window, roam
the sordid walls, settle into a selfish ring.
He looks ahead into nothing. His fingers
find a rubato. He launches fully into it—
loosening its tempo, hesitating a bit,
as if undressing something with his fingers;
some tempo going into a pulse; now, he plays a dark
brooding down, so he can be constituted within it,
and he inserts anticipation and a swelled frenzy
before overfeeding the melody with a pathos-
going-into-deep-rain—and, in mid-play,
he asks me if I have ever deceived myself
with art. I tell him art is the salvation
of torment, and its recipe, the fulcrum
of a wise spirit—moving to free itself
from a deluded heart, and he moves into
a polonaise, a waltz, a mazurka, before he
tells me art is a vast continuum where the soul
wanders, unfaithful to anything that would
contain it, especially those presumptions
that place too much a premium on habit,
and that it—like chaos—awakens, cheats on itself,
vanishes, and relinquishes itself in a random
veiled light, and it reconstructs, like an ever
involuted strand of hair, before it wanders
free again, in order to repeat,
and I ask him should he stop playing
to identify this idea, to which he tells me,
art is form, created from a single idea
like a life, and the rest of it, is improvisation—
you must stand alone to accomplish it,
become lost and found again in its haunted
echo until only the night is your confidant,
and all the rest—the silence—swallows you,
which is the way creation works. I tell him
he is correct and he accuses me of deceit,
says I use praise to hide from envy,
and that art places a loyalty on chaos
before it conforms, and he stands up
to menace me. What happens next
cannot be spoken, but afterwards, after
he has abandoned the building again,
and I am left looking over his papers,
I read that he says his work is no longer
warbling birds or cracked china on the floor,
no longer the romance of a sweet rendering—
but instead, is the flow of a finer precision,
a magician, divining the audible from the unknown.