by James Longenbach
We slept above the Gargantuan Diner,
Second floor, Broadway and 111th Street.
We listened to a lot of records, we read a lot of books.
Brahms had not been dead for a hundred years.
All day I answered the phone at Fanwick and Rubin ...
Fanwick and Rubin Dental Malpractice.At night, when we opened the windows,
Exhaust blew in from the kitchen beneath us,
It covered our records with grease.
Once we bought wine with a bag of pennies,
Drank it on the island, traffic swirling past on either side.
Pollini playing Stockhausen,
Paul Jacobs playing Elliot Carter.
After the premiere of Night FantasiesWe walked across the park to the apartment.
You lowered the Venetian blinds,
Then pulled your jeans off purposefully, without shyness,
The fans of the Gargantuan rumbling below.
Augie's, the Mill, the sewer grate where you dropped your keys –
Carter turned one hundred on December 11, 2008,
Jacobs died of AIDS in 1983.
Of all the recordings of Night Fantasies
I like the one by Jacobs best;
It sounds like Schumann, flighty, lyrical.
It's out of print but you can listen to him playing
Busoni's transcription of Brahms' last work,
The organ chorale preludes, opus 122.
Arbiter Recordings, B0004W1KS.
* * * * *
The picture of Paul Jacobs at top was taken just a couple of years before his early, early, very early death 27 years ago. He is all but forgotten now, like hundreds of other dead young artists of the 1980s and early 90s. But not forgotten by James Longenbach, and not by me. And I think this poem is one of those rare creatures, a successful present-day elegy.
It can be found along with three additional James Longenbach poems in the current issue (Spring Summer 2010) of Salmagundi.