1959, November. The plumed De Soto
hammers on, freshman driver
burning up the plains.
Freedom! The Kappa Gamma Beta boys
can never catch him now. They’re back east
in the studio, where Ormandy
shrugs and starts recording.
Dmitri has better things to do. This is
his jazz age, his lost weekend.
An upstate college, denuded branches
scrawled across the moon. He nestles
in a co-ed’s bed. Dreams
drag him back to the Kremlin:
always the bottle of Georgian wine,
always the black telephone.
Dawn is coffee, hesitant smiles,
the wordless bond of night
knotting itself into language.
She is summer, America, forgetting.
“You were flailing your arms,”
she says. “Conducting.”
He kisses, disentangles, turns the key.
His car roars over the siloed plains,
eastwards into the morning.
Credit note: “Shostakovich in America” was originally published in Issue 11 of Bravado magazine, and was subsequently included in my 2011 poetry collection Men Briefly Explained.
Dmitri Shostakovich did visit the USA in 1959, and did record with Eugene Ormandy. The rest is imagined.
Tim says: I posted this poem once before, in 2010 – around the time the Tuesday Poem began. I’m posting it here again because I have recently finished reading Sarah Quigley’s novel The Conductor, which is set during World War 2, and covers the composition and Leningrad premiere of Shostakovich’s Seventh (“Leningrad”) symphony. While I’m not as sure that the novel “manages to light up something of the Russian soul” as the Observer reviewer, I do think it’s a fine portrayal of what it takes to create under adverse – in this case, among the most adverse – of circumstances – and if you are at all interested in music, or creative work of any kind, I encourage you to read it.