Ludwig van Beethoven

It was just him and me that evening

In a dimly lit coffeehouse on the south bank of the Thames,

Like we’d somehow met halfway.


Though I knew the Atlantic to be wider than his short jaunt from Vienna,

I offered to pay for the drinks

As he was the one who soared valiantly across the stars of two centuries

To meet me, and I simply took an early flight and a cab.


When we sat down, I happened to glance over his shoulder and out the window,

Catching the London fog along the length of the still river

As if it had wandered straight from some

Penciled copy of Eliot’s poetry

Or a chapter from that Dickens novel

Sitting softly on the shelf in a used bookstore near Piccadilly.


But all I could do was ladle my mug with both hands

Like a beggar warding off frostbite

As I tried to think of what to say, desperately wishing to avoid

The stilted air of an interview

Or the false pretense of coziness, talking about the weather

Or something equally grey and dull.


Yet, in the silence,

As the moon held its head above the water of the gentle, pebbled tide,

I looked to his navy coat, his shock of famous hair,

And, finally, to his curled fingers on the table

As they drummed lightly beside his empty cup and the black dregs

Splattered like notes along the bottom.


They spoke for themselves

The way they’d spoken all those years ago

In the Moonlight Sonata, the riot of the Fifth Symphony,

The glorious Ode to Joy.


And now, strolling down the street into the marble cool hours of night,

I slowly attach these headphones

And choose his Seventh Symphony in A major,

The one he reportedly wrote to convalesce from the storms of illness.


And I carry two thoughts, one for each pocket,

The first, how beautiful the winter air,

The second, a quiet wish that I could tell him how good it is to know

He’s still got it.

New Year’s Eve

A city of shivering knees, stars leaning over towers.

The people crowd along the sidewalk, stacking walls out of late hours

To keep the last year out for good.


They’re all on camera, teeth chattering,

Huddled behind each other’s shoulders,

Looking up to an apple suspended by cables,

A moon in a lighthouse, a broken compass,

Needles shining in every direction at once.


From up there, they are merely heads,

Shuffling from side to side to shake off the cold,

Thousands counting under their breath,

Holding coffee, posters, hands,


This evening they rode trains, drove cars,

Gathered change for the wishes they’d toss down the well

At twelve.


But in the final moments, they bundle together in the gridlock,

Quiet, waiting,

Winding another layer of tape around their hearts

And lifting prayers into the night sky that this next one may finally

Save them.


And at midnight

They all dip like princesses to kiss for auld lang syne,

Singing and cheering the birth of a new year,

Horns wailing from loudspeakers, eyelashes glowing.


But when the last streamers fall to the ground,

Trash cans overflowing, confetti swept in bags,

The snowflakes become water,

And a dingy glass slipper lay propped against

An old pumpkin on the corner,

Clock hands turning in the morning light.


I wrote this poem across the length of California,

Scrawling these ink strokes through the vineyards and the shoreline,

Even on the edges of the “H” in Hollywood.


I waltzed through the City of Angels

Tuned to an imaginary score,

Pulling up pieces of the highway and blowing them in the air.

Then I hopped on the eastbound train in an old and rusted boxcar,

Writing another line on the face of wooden crates,

Even on the metal sheets stacked against the corner.


The next night I high-fived the vampires in Denver

And dashed off another verse on a creaky traffic light

As I swung from its taut cable, my shoelaces

Reaching toward the windows of the passing cabs below.


In Dallas they saw me dance on all the tablecloths,

Kicking over glasses, scribbling on the centerpieces.


I wandered round in Nashville,

Dizzied by the neon lights,

And etched a lovely metaphor on the back of a guitar,

One where I compared love to a waning moon.


Then the wind ran wild beneath my arms in Atlanta,

The universe of skyscrapers, planets of burning light,

Offices and windows humming with breath

And watching close as I straddled the top of a limousine,

Pockets inside out, my words on every exit

Down the infinite interstate.


Well, I should tell you,

I wrote this poem all the way to your house

Where I finally lay down in the middle of the road,

Anchored the tip of my pen to your cold street,

And waited for the world to turn,

Drawing a new equator.


Two hemispheres,

One for each of us.

Outside Hopper’s Nighthawks

A new poem…

I was shuffling down the sidewalk that night,

My hands fixed in the pockets of my coat,

Thumb and finger turning at keys, aping

The turning in my mind,

When I found myself outside Hopper’s Nighthawks.


It was eerie at first to see my curious look

In the reflection of the old diner,

Though not so old in this impossible present

Where I stood peering through the dingy glass,

Squinting to note the familiar figures at the bar:

The hatted cigaretteer, the suspicious woman in red,

Their hands eternally touching or not touching,

The amiable boy tending the bar

And the fourth with his back to the world.


I drew my forehead up to the window

To determine how cool this outside dark,

Placing my hands like parentheses around my eyes

Only to see the still figures inside

Staring at nothing,

Dwelling on absent futures, listless

In their fixed points where Phillies are only 5¢

And the lights are always on.


Yet before I pulled away to turn the corner to my car,

A lazy glance happened upon a single glass,

Idle and unclaimed,

On the nearer end of the bar,

Removed from the four characters

Paralyzed in their cold moments.


So I drifted inside,

Lay my keys and scarf upon the counter,

And asked the boy if he’d exchange the empty tumbler

For a coffee cup like the others.

But he wouldn’t take it, wouldn’t even listen,

Didn’t even stand up straight from his persistent stooping,

And I gathered the glass was meant to stay,

Left by someone else,

Destined never to be filled,

Perhaps stuck in his own still point,

Caught in a portrait of frozen dancing

Or motionless on the curb.


I scooped up my keys and turned them over,

One by one around the ring,

But not before I waited for a while

To see what would happen next.