The Cymbal Player

As bows and fingers quiver strings,
as lungs and lips whip up the air,
as notes soar on great falcon wings,

one player, seated in his chair
like a finch hid in a maple tree,
as if the creature wouldn’t dare

trill out above the symphony
(perhaps in fear of being caught
by a raptor high above the lea),

begins to rise like an afterthought
amid the pianissimos
and, like a hunter’s rifle shot

as bright as ninety-nine rainbows
of overtones, he spreads, then hits
two plates together. The ether glows

like sunlight through the woods. He sits
back down. And yet the clang still rings
and darts and dances, flutters, flits

and, for the merest moment, clings,
then fades away like all brief things.

 

The Purple Sun

Holy cow! We’re holding hands,
reaching across our fenceless lands
and even (an outlandish notion!)
across unfathomed sheets of ocean.

Go and snigger, go and smirk,
spread rumors that I’ve gone berserk,
yet there’s no harm in fantasizing,
hoping when we see the rising
in the west of a purple sun,
a grander age will have begun.

A falcon pounces on a pigeon,
a zealot murders for “religion,”
a hunter fells the heartiest moose,
and there are rapists on the loose.
An asteroid could wipe out life
as neatly as a nutjob’s knife
will slit the throat of a supporter
of peace and harmony and order.

Yet when we see that purple sun
a grander age will have begun
and we shall clasp each other’s hands
across all borders and all lands.
Oh, we shall hold each other’s hands
across our vast and fenceless lands.

We people are Earth’s mayhem masters.
While quakes and floods and such disasters
come like plagues of rabid rats
to terrorize us, autocrats
faster than a lightning flash
turn hope to ash, fling bombs that smash
the edifices of our dreams,
stifle our panic-stricken screams
and deafen dolphin, dog, and deer.

But if we hold out on this sphere,
we’ll see a purple coin appear;
we’ll watch it climb the sky and crest
the cool-blue mountains in the west
and (shall I say it?) link our hands
across all borders and all lands
and even (an outlandish notion!)
across unfathomed sheets of ocean,
beaming, laughing, lost in the glee
of being a community.

 

Martin Elster, author of There’s a Dog in the Heavens!, is also a composer and serves as percussionist for the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. His poems have appeared in such journals as Astropoetica, The Flea, The Martian Wave, The Rotary Dial, and in the anthologies Taking Turns: Sonnets from Eratosphere, The 2012 Rhysling Anthology, and New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan. Martin’s poem, “Walking With the Birds and the Bones Through Fairview Cemetery” received first place in the Thomas Gray Anniversary Poetry Competition 2014, and “Talcott Mountain” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Chimaera.

Related Post

‘Napoleon in New Orleans’ and Other Poetry by Ro...   Napoleon in New Orleans So the sun of Austerlitz has set. I had many triumphs, but it’s the few defeats – Leipzig, Waterloo especially – I...

24 Responses

  1. James A. Tweedie

    Re The Cymbal Player: It manages to be both audibly and autobiographically descriptive at the same time. Its effect is as lovely as music.

    And what an intriguing rhyme scheme:

    ababcb/cdcded/efefgf/gg

    (or the final three g’s could be interpreted as a return to “a,” bringing the scheme full circle–which is, of course, the shape of a cymbal! )

    Is this rhyming pattern (and the three-line stanzas) original or are there other examples?

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      The rhyme scheme here is basically terza rima. There are different ways to end it, but, yes, in this case, the ending returns to the beginning, which is a nice touch, not required by the form, and separated by such a distance that the reader can see it but probably not hear it.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        Thank you, C.B. for the the reference to terza rima. There is so much to learn. Perhaps I shall seek out other new forms and try them out.

      • martin

        Hi C.B.,

        I don’t often break a word between lines with hyphens. The one time I did, some fellow poets advised me to change it, so I found two shorter words so I wouldn’t need the hyphen. I actually like that poem better. But I have seen many poets us hyphens use that way so, as you said, there is precedent for it. The way you are using it in the your excerpt works fine, partly because the meter is dimeter, so there is a natural flow from one line to the next, without a pause, as there is in, for example, trimeter or pentameter.

        Speaking of initial caps, I used to use them consistently, but a few years ago decided to type my poems in a more modern style. In terms of appearance on the page, I think initial caps visually balance the end rhymes, especially when they are full rhymes (as apposed to slants).

    • martin

      Hi James,

      Many thanks for your kind words about “The Cymbal Player.” I’m happy you enjoyed it. Hearing that it sounds musical to your ears is great to hear!

      Thanks for asking about the rhyme scheme which, as C.B Anderson mentioned, is terza rima. I love your analogy of the rhymes coming full circle and the roundness of a cymbal.

      Reply
  2. Steven Shaffer

    I liked them both. I’m interested in your thought process re: lower case throughout for The Cymbal Player — fan of e e cummings?

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Steven,

      You will have to wait for the author’s own explanation, but I have pondered this matter a lot. Nowadays I almost always use caps at the head of a line, but it’s just a convention that does nothing for the poem but reinforce the sense of formalism and tradition. I most often use lower-case line headings when I enjamb a word at the end of a line, with a hyphen to link the word fragment to the fragment beginning the next line. For example, in the first stanza of my poem “Faith and Fortitude”:

      We shy at worms
      and are afraid
      of septic germs,
      while in our thoughts,
      however tox-
      ic, we are staid-
      ly orthodox.

      The Argonauts
      of ancient Greece,
      impatient for
      the Golden Fleece,
      against all odds
      would wade ashore
      with pagan gods.

      Thus avoiding, in the first stanza, the awkward non-words of “Ic” and “Ly.” Many formalist poets would likely shun the practice of splitting words and counsel against it, but sometimes one needs a word with the right meaning and the required end rhyme, even if the rhyme is embedded in a longer word. I won’t apologize for this bizarre practice, because it has been done before by poets of considerable renown and because my own transgressive poem has been published twice. None of this has anything to do with e e cummings.

      Reply
    • martin

      Hi Steven,

      Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate it. You asked why I use lower case throughout for the “Cymbal Player.” I love E.E. cummings. But, actually, if you look at my poem carefully, you will notice that it’s composed of 4 sentences, each on starting with a capital letter. None of those sentences begins at the beginning of a line, so no line starts with a capital! The first sentence is 13 1/2 lines long. The rest of the poem has 3 shorter sentences. In other words, I use standard punctuation. Nothing unusual.

      Reply
    • martin

      Hi David,

      “The sun may very well be purple by the time mankind comes to its senses and we all live in peace and harmony. Interesting poem. Well done.”

      Thanks for stopping by, and I’m glad you found the poem interesting. Your interpretation is bang on and perfectly elucidates what I was going for. One other detail that may be worth noting is that no one ever sees the sun rising in the west, another clue (in the poem) that we may have a very long wait, indeed, before the beings on this planet become noticeably healthier, more in balance, and by and large happy. And isn’t happiness basically what life is for? If not, then what?

      Thanks again, David.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        Not to take away from the apocalyptic image, but twice I have watched the sun set in the east. Each time I was standing on a high mountain ridge at the end of a hot summer day. Because of an atmospheric inversion layer, the image of the sun setting in the west was reflected to the east where, as a mirror image, it appeared to be setting in both directions simultaneously. Two creepy, unearthly, and yet profoundly spiritual experiences I will never forget.

  3. martin

    Thanks, everyone, for your thought-provoking comments and discussion.

    Reply
  4. martin

    I would have loved to see that sunrise, James. It must have been a remarkable sight. Thanks for sharing that memory. So maybe the sun can, in a way, rise in the west (or set in the east).

    Reply
  5. martin

    I would have loved to see that sunrise, James. It must have been a remarkable sight. Thanks for sharing that memory. So maybe the sun can, in a way, rise in the west (or set in the east). The atmosphere can do lots of tricks with light!

    Reply
  6. Dave Whippman

    I like “The Cymbal Player.” It’s quite a complicated form to work in and you managed very well, giving us an intriguing piece.

    Reply
    • martin

      Thanks, David. I’m pleased that you found the “The Cymbal Player” intriguing. I also appreciate you mentioning the form.

      Reply
    • martin

      Hi Charlie,

      It’s nice to see you here. Thanks for stopping by!

      Best,

      Martin

      Reply
  7. David Hollywood

    I really enjoyed the build up, tension and anticipation and then the retreat and disappearance of The Cymbal Player. Very affecting. Thank you.

    Reply
    • martin

      David H. — Thanks for stopping by and letting me know you enjoyed the poem. Much appreciated.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.