I was a featured reader at the Glass Door, the Mill Woods Artists’ Collective, 27 March, 7 pm, 6120 – 28th Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, and read this pivotal sequence of five poems that concludes the third taxonomy, “At the Widening of the Narrows,” of my book, Caravaggio’s Dagger.
The subject of the book is a pursuit of right action. The principal subject of the taxonomy is the intrusion of death.
“Ashes of the Oceanic Sun,” is an elegy in four parts on the death of my father, who passed away in Ottawa on April 11, 2001. I was that year continuing my three years’ study of all the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach, and returned to cantata 156, when my mother had telephoned, as she had promised she would, when she knew it would be time for my wife and I to board a plane from Vancouver to Ottawa for his end. His obituary, written by me and published in The Globe and Mail, can be found here.
This four locales are Vancouver, Ottawa, l’Hôpital Montfort in Ottawa, and the place beyond the place where mortality flourishes.
Cantata 156, written for the third Sunday after Epiphany, at which the Gospel is that of Christ healing the sick (Matthew 8:1-13), begins with a wordless sinfonia with solo oboe. Bach later used the melody for the slow movement of his harpsichord concerto in F minor, BWV 1056. The first aria begins with the words Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe, whose overall meaning can be conveyed in English as I am standing with one foot in the grave. One exquisitely crafted feature of the oboe melody is that it does not resolve at the conclusion of the sinfonia, for it goes not to the tonic, but stays on the dominant, as if waiting for something further.
“Rivière-des-Prairies vue de l’Oasis de Laval,” is a nocturne, à mon éternellement bien-aimée amie de grâce, Cécile (1916-2004). Cécile Marchand was one the finest individuals I have ever had the privilege to know. She had already been a close friend of my wife’s for many years before I met her. She was also a co-worker to both of us at the international headquarters of Alcan Aluminium Ltd., on the 30th floor of Place Ville-Marie in the centre of downtown Montréal. Some years after her retirement, she chose to move from her place in Outremont into a retirement apartment overlooking Rivière-des-Prairies from the Laval side. It was a magnificent vista, especially during the early evenings of winter, when the moonlight would flood the river ice with golden beauty.
Cécile had a great love and appreciation of the arts, and held a special place for music. Two of her favourite arias were “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca and “Casta diva” from Norma.
“Centrality” is a lyrical affirmation of “wanton guides of independence.” The poem’s sentiment derives in part from Victor Schertzinger’s song, by way of Eddy Duchin and stays at Cultus Lake in the Fraser River valley.
“Inside Sunlight,” is a meditation in three short parts upon the dispersal of scattered days. It is addressed to my wife. The poem begins in Leiden in the Netherlands, moves to Montreal, and concludes in Tofino. In each locale both the waters and the light are different and specific, yet related to each of the other two locales.
If you musically parse the title of the second section of the poem with the opening of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, the relationship will be clear, and the sentiment of that relationship will be intimated.
“Reconsiderations,” is comprised of three short dramatic monologues; the first derived from British musicologist Jack Westrup, who wrote incisively on the Bach cantatas; the second, from Québécois songwriter Luc Plamondon; and the third, from W. Somerset Maugham. It presents a triptych of choices that depend upon personal decision, and so may or may not be realized, but are fully interconnected, artistically, with one another.
The text of Plamondon’s song is available here.