Tuesday, July 28, 2009

From SPIRIT PLAY - in Honor of Peter Lieberson

I

Vast, unknowable, pitiless,
Time does not stop.

Again, a blazing sunrise
Brings the teeming world to life.

But still, a ghost moon shimmers,
Whispering in the bright sky
Like a waking dream
Not yet hidden by the day.

Here, we the living
Pause amongst the vanished.

Love and sorrow continuing,
Our heart opens and finds peace.

Shotoku Taishi
Will move like a wave between earth and sky:
A golden dragon now rises from the sea:

Worlds of music fill the air.

The Goddess of the Sun, Amaterasu Omikami
Will give to you a man of happiness,
A warrior of warriors,
A gentle lord.


II

Veils of silver clouds drift slowly
Down the valleys on the mountain sides,
As with the rushing of a distant waterfall,
Pine trees ripple in descending waves,
Bending and shimmering
Under an advancing spirit’s step.

Oh Ruler of the Sky,
Oh Rulers of the Three Times,
Oh Thousand Stars and Thousand Deities
Who are the guides of human fate,
Oh rivers of those who show the way and those who follow
Clear and pure as sunlight,
Oh Deities of Land and Seasons:
Oh momentary love.

Oh Ruler of the Sky,
Oh Rulers of the Three Times,
Oh Thousand Stars and Thousand Deities
Who are the guides of human fate,
Oh rivers of those who show the way and those who follow
Clear and pure as moonlight,
Oh Lords of Land and Seasons:
Oh, so deeply to be loved
Shining in all we sense and know,
We bow down to you.

III

Golden, stately, radiant,
Slowly, she places on clouds her bright petal steps.
Lightly, she gilds the snow peaks.
Sparkling, she dances across the sea.
Shifting, she rests in the fragrant pine branch.

Golden, stately, radiant,
Splendor of all that is seen felt, heard and known,
Her passions light the high plains of the sky.

She flies in the dawn breeze.
And sails like the hunter’s arrow.
She quivers in the deer’s startled cry.
She curls in the white petals of new plum blossoms.
She whispers in the cold waters of the melted snow.
She opens in the green scent of sprouting grass.
She glides in the clatter of the weaver’s shuttle,
And sighs in a lover’s lament.
She descends on banks of shining clouds,
And flashes on the warrior’s sword.
She is the luster of a ruler’s crown.

She rests in stillness on the fragrant pine branch.
And her hair is perfumed with galaxies of stars.

If, in an instant,
An ocean of sorrow parts,
She appears.
Amateratsu Omikami
Goddess of the Sun,
Splendor of all that is seen, felt, heard, known.

Golden, stately, radiant,
Slowly she places her bright petal steps:
Lightly she touches the snow peaks,
Sparkling, she dances across black tormented waves,
Subtly, she rests for a moment in the fragrant cypress glade.

You see her now
In the primordial mirror,
The great circle of the sky.
She gives to you a man of happiness.

IV.

Autumn wears her supple robe of mist
Woven in the dark mountains,
Tangled and unraveled by the breeze
Unfolding in the soft light of an orange sun.

Returning softly
Through pines and mist,
Dawn touches the temple spire.

Prince Shotoku moves across the stone bridge.

Seen from afar,
Silently
He enters the Hall of Dreams.
He moves into the living world.

V

Mountains, pine trees, sky and humankind
Merge in darkness.

All forms fade and laughter stops.
Knowing, longing and true love
Do not hold you here.

Hidden where you cannot see,
She moves beyond remembering,
He moves beyond forgetting,

As the living and the dead
Flicker like clouds of fireflies above a bridge.

Vast, unknowable, pitiless,
Time does not stop.

Love and sorrow do not separate
In the vast space of the empty heart.

A ghost moon shimmers
In the morning sky
Like a waking dream
Not yet hidden by the day.

Here, we the living
Pause amongst the vanished.

Love and sorrow continuing,
Resting our heart.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Breakfast Story for D.M.

Here’s a story for breakfast tea- not heavy, a little sweet, nicely piquant. Like good stories, it may even have a point.

My grandmother ( a contralto from Indiana, Sembrich pupil, made her living as an oratorio soloist at St. Bartholomew's Cathedral and with the NY Phil.) started taking me to the opera when I was 7. This was the old Metropolitan Opera house, shabby gold and mulberry, but still resonant with the echoes of Garden, the De Reskes, Caruso, Ponselle, on and on; and scented by faded perfume from the the vanished hordes of swanky rich folk with their diamond tiaras, a little sweaty too as men and women from the garment district had listened avidly from the top balconies.

I was immediately taken by this atmosphere, this big dark space and the teeny people in bizarre bright outfits screaming away. A strange and wonderful hallucination. My grandmother’s explanation of opera plots was also mysterious and obliquely exciting. On Rigoletto- She: “The Duke is a cad and ruins young women.” Me (7 remember): “What does that mean? How can he ‘ruin’ them.” She with accelerating firmness: “He just...just..ruins them.” In connection with Magdalena she used the word, “strumpet.”; the first and last time I heard the word used in ordinary speech. It wasn’t that she was pretentious – she wasn’t. She had just memorized a lot of of libretti.

Anyhow, in the intermissions, a tall, quite old, very pale woman with commanding posture, white hair, round cobalt blue glasses, lavish flowing clothes and moving like a great exotic bird, would pass majestically through the aisles of the orchestra to hushed deference. A small dapper man was always in attendance.

“That’s Jeritza,” my grandmother whispered. Another mystery, Then she told the story of this great star of the Vienna State Opera, famous for her beauty, her glamour, her (I don’t remember how she got this point across, maybe by referring darkly to “scandals”.) many lovers, her gleaming voice and how Richard Strauss wrote Daphne for her; how she was the first woman to sing Tosca lying on the floor, head stage front.

It seems that this astounding creature was now in our midst because for years, whenever she would appear in NY, a dentist from New Jersey would come to her dressing room , leave flowers, proclaim his admiration and his (discreetly) undying love. He was not pushy but unfailing, and a certain friendship developed. They corresponded. After many years, and when her career had ended (I think there were movies too), she came back to NY and married him. He was, as he would have to be if the story is to be a good one, the small dapper gent in her train.