Song 1
NOVEMBER
It is raining today, the slick
whale backs of sidewalks
surfacing along the block.
Look how the earth throws them
up, buckled, breaking.  The fallen
leaves, raked into humps, flatten,
press down like hands.
If I were to reach my hand
into the rich, wet leaves
and lift them to my face, I would smell
the season’s blood, animal, insect,
the evidence of earthly living.
Each thing has left its mark, its scent,
all the ravelled fragments of birth
and death fallen into place.
North of here, November glistens, a new
snow sticking to everything: branches
of trees, cats curled on porches, the
steaming backs of horses.  Distance turning
rain to snow or snow to rain.  Each
is pain and beauty, wet pavement glowing
in the pale November noon, or snow its own
illumination, each winding across time
and distance a dark path.



Song 2
IN A FIELD OF SUNLIGHT

We will walk into the field
of goldenrod splintered
by the sun’s foolishness.
We have been there before,
after a rain,
when the water streamed
like the grain of wood
around obliterations
of limb, and knots
of mourners recalling
other losses, other rains.

The mind as it chills
returns to sunlight
and the child’s leaping stitch
across the field,
bobbing above weeds
and remorse, until we go
to meet her
where she progresses,
where she rises
into the arm’s reach,
her gnatty hair gleaming.

 

Song 7
POEM
Isn’t it here
in the unnamed
giving of light,
bodies of earth and water
lifted and taken
into the orbit of flesh;
isn’t it the waking
of blood and bone
to another earthly presence
moving across the space
of a lighted window
as though it were
the universe;
isn’t it the breaking
that sets free
the commingling of sane
and insane fragments
moments when the light
burns through
to the meek
suspension of air?

 

 

 

Song 8
EVENING, MILKING
Each day redeemed by evening

The stammering sunset.
The moon in its rut of sky.

The mind is white wicker.

Cows, heavy with the business of milk,
nod home from the east pasture.

There is a moan that milk makes.

The clatter of hooves, the lovely cow eyes.
Thrown oats.  The rasp of rough tongues.

My grandmother’s small hands.

It is true the earth cries out at dusk.
Its various voices.

frank stemper

A Love Imagined (2004-5)
Eight Songs from Ten Poems by Herbert Scott for voice and piano  -  52 minutes



NOTES

Many of the poems set in this song cycle were written after the poet, Herbert Scott, discovered the leukemia that eventually killed him.  Thus, they are a recollection, a reflection, or perhaps a reliving of his life, as a boy and young man.  Therefore, as the project of composing this setting of ten poems began, it was doubtful that the poet would be around for their premiere.  However, meeting with Mr. Scott on several occasions during the composition process found him not just in admirably good spirits, but remarkably, astonishingly, heroically stronger than the cancer that was killing him.  His LIFE continued to be consumed with his life: with poetry, not just his own, as well as virtually all other art forms, and overwhelmingly with his family.  This project perhaps rejuvenated him, but he had an inner spirit that was as strong as an ox. The first performance of A Love Imagined occurred about five months after the poet was expected to succumb.  Instead, at that performance, he gave of reading of his poetry and then went on a poetry reading tour of the eastern United States and Prague.

Poet Herbert Scott passed away in February 2006, 14 months after the original diagnosis and a month after a performance of A Love Imagined in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he worked for decades.  One of the last times I saw Herb Scott, he surprised me by grabbing my arm and dancing a gig, as if he was thumbing his nose at the poison in his body.




www.frankstemper.com                                                                                                                                      Last Updated: August 14, 2008

  • November7:55
  • In a Field of Sunlight2:39
  • Night Walking5:44
  • Snowstorm on Mozart's Birthday11:39
  • Mother at the Mirror, 1939 - Invocation10:39
  • The Song the Burnt Child Sings - Rain After Midnight7:25
  • (Poem) for Shirley6:03
  • Evening, Milking6:54

Song 3
NIGHT WALKING
The nose
of an oboe


a wedge of light
through an open door

darkness
pried apart

a kind
of breathing

voices
of houses

The street
a patient silence

and that long, thin
reed of music

something you
nod to, passing

fingers pigeoned
in front pockets

as though it were
your song.

 

Song 4
SNOWSTORM ON MOZART’S BIRTHDAY
The teachers of winter
let down their long hair.

 We lie back on our beds
and disappear
in the pale, quiet muslin.

Twenty-seven inches of snow,
and Mozart on the radio.

The neighbors are pushing
through five-foot swells of snow.
Where will they go?

The city is adrift,
but Mozart on the radio.

Mozart, we are thankful.
The air glistens with music
and we lie back again and again.

The sky flings down its lovely notes.
Mozart on the radio.

 

Song 5
MOTHER AT THE MIRROR, 1939
She says
her lean evening
prayers
for the flesh
fingers dipped
in Pond’s
cold cream
blessing
her face
before the bird’s-eye
maple dresser
children tucked
asleep
beneath the rim
of wind-whipped
sheets.

(INVOCATION)
Skin, and bone, and weed
flower in the flesh.
Do not go to sleep.

Love is a dust we keep,
silt of the body’s dreaming.
Do not go to sleep.

If I were the speech of leaves
I’d let my body sing.
Do not go to sleep.

Words like willow branches
bend to the earth’s reach.
Do not go to sleep.



Song 6
THE SONG THE BURNT CHILD SINGS
I have no lips, no nose,
my mouth is a howl,
my tongue a choir.
No one can clap my ears.

I can bite.

Must I thank God for my eyes?
they will not close.
The world spills ceaselessly into them.

If I could have hair or ears,
or nose, or eyes that close,
which would I choose?
None of those.

Lord, give me lips to kiss this life.

(RAIN AFTER MIDNIGHT)
The new widow is walking

barefoot on wooden floors

through the early morning hours.