Johann Sebastian Bach

The Art Of The Fugue

The title of Bach’s last work,
at the printer when he died.


The left hand iterates, then waits
for the reiterating right.
Then together they expound
in notes both single and in chord,
constructions that exceed
the sum of part and counterpart.

Invention is the word of art.
Whether or not the fugal line,
that cantilevered on its past
never fails to fit
off-center with itself,
is in fact invented
or like the statue in the stone
is there already, who can tell?


You do know this. Against entropy,
lost linearities,
the one-wayness of things
a line of notes assays.

With plenties low, food stocks low,
when there is death at birth, the lines
exalt enlargement of the crazed,
anastomose and disembogue.

Despite opinion's angularities,
patronage–or not–of princely states,
the teeter-totter paradox
rejoices in the fitted key.


So does the maple's double clutch
wrest symmetry from earth from air
that its empowered sphere may render
pollen to the wind, then wait.

A great storm sheds the substance of itself
that reservoirs receive, drought recedes.
The new moon waiting for its light discovers,
earth and sun rejoice in syzygy.

How can snowfields on the blackest night
be so bright they give back light
that wasn't there, if not to show
the reach of inward radiance?

For old men, impeccabled by loss,
the lovely alertness of road signs in the Fall
evokes the brotherhood of foxholes.
A siren at dawn, its slow fall
and urgent re-gatherings, recalls
the winnowy thing called song–to sing, sung.
They watch young lovers in the park and see,
athwart the fixed conveyance of the past,
a future opens out ... antiphonates.
Where once were two there may again be two.


You do know this. After the hands
have worked their figures and stays,
the silence of the room will close
like water without seam. When said and done
the quick decaying notes will leave behind
an unaffected winter afternoon.

Nevertheless they play for us.
The left hand iterates then waits

John Barr/from Dante in China

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