Submitted Date 04/05/2019

Symphonic Variations
Age 16, Sandwich Massachusetts (Cape Cod), 1960
-- This is one poem, in an autobiographical series of poems, I posted here at WriteSpike. Go to my stories section for others. They are in chronological order. --

I leaned my borrowed bike
against the wall
of the abandoned train station

Then I eagerly pulled out the record album
I had just bought as a kind of celebration

I chose this spot
because it was out of the way
always empty but with a history
of people and the bustle of travel

On the album cover was a photo
of the conductor, Bruno Walter
inside was my next hurdle in classical music
Brahms' 4th Symphony

Bruno was listening intently
to a playback of what he had just recorded
I could see in his eyes
a state that I wanted to achieve --
one of full concentration
of a master listening
to what he had just created

I had developed my love for music
in my father's home here in this town on Cape Cod
and now classical music had become my refuge

At a cold demanding boarding school in New Hampshire
my grades were marginal because I did not care
but at night I listened to Bach, Beethoven, and Bartok
with earphones and towels rolled against the bottom of my door
so the masters would not know I was up

Systematically I worked my way through
the classical repertoire
while adding my own discoveries
and creating my own body
of musical emotion

I was in an unusual place in my life:
Because of a lawsuit brought by my mother against my father
the door of my Dad's home here in Sandwich was closed to me

This house had been a safe place
where I felt must return each summer
or my life would be incomplete --
not unlike salmon who must go back
to the same spawning grounds each year

But this year the simmering battle between parents
became open warfare
and caught in the middle --
Sandwich was gone

So I had taken my own independent route
and stayed with a family in town
for a few weeks

On this day
just hours earlier
I had borrowed one of their bicycles
and rode down the familiar roads,
paths I had worn as a child

Then here at the station, I paused
to read the record jacket
and imagine the sounds I would hear
the culmination of Brahms' symphonic cycle
as I had already cracked open symphonies 1, 2, and 3

Now surrounded by the song of crickets
in the overgrown grass
I was at peace

And just then
I became aware of a faint whistle
with a musical tell-tale Doppler whine
like the horns calling at the beginning of
the final movement of Brahms #1

I did not think these tracks were used anymore
but instead a freight train
pulling a mile of empty cars
rushed at me
until it swept by at full speed
shaking the ground

For several minutes
coming and going
hollow boxcars rattled
on metal tracks
sound echoing
off brick walls, broken windows
and vacant waiting rooms
like the percussion section of an orchestra

Then just as suddenly
the last car left
and the clickity-clack
along the rail softened
like a drum section fading
as though the caboose at the end
sucked the roaring sound with it
and took it back

It was a crescendo
for an audience of one
it was mine and mine alone

I remembered
this back at school years later
and I remembered it
when I moved from New England
to a college in North Carolina

It was the climax of that summer
the full sound of a symphonic work

And I told no one

But now, years later, I realize
it was the beginning of the beginning:

I would honor my family and friends
but I would be independent --

The life I lived would be one
I carved out on my own,
a life I would lead with my own intentions
and not the turmoil of others

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