Lake Effect, Volume 25: "St. Chopin of the Vacant Buildings"

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.