Poem | Conversation with Messiaen

Marc Chagall, America Windows detail, (Creative Commons)


I hear the bells and singing stained glass birds
As, Olivier Messiaen, you shift the scale
Of chirps from semitones to tones or thirds
For tawny owl or tenor nightingale.
Time weighed with what endures you interwove
Among the sounds you sense as gold and brown
Or blues lit up by ruby, red or mauve
And dazzling tones of rainbows upside down.
Your two great loves are Mi and Loriod,
Who share that jazz of freedom faith enjoys
Where limit modes allow the heart to flow
Its giddy praise and prayer—Chagall in noise.
Our spirit’s here and there both correspond;
Here in this earthly life our life beyond.

My poet mother’s pulses in the womb
And I become her music-making heir;
I bless the rhythmic genes in me that bloom
To celebrate mon Dieu et son mystère.
Let harmonies and rhythm both share one root
In riots of creation’s rising prayers;
In modes retrieved or borrowed I transmute
Polyphonies of beats and patterned layers.
Renewing metres in what’s old and new,
The spirit fanfares up eternal fun
And double-dotted crochets shiver as
The brass blows red, the sighing woodwind blue.
Is music pleasure, prayer and praise in one?
The horns and harps of paradise play jazz.

Your music’s where the sacred intersects
With camp or college; worker by routine,
Precise and private, steeped in hallowed texts,
I see you planting trees at La Sauline.
He held a small scroll open in his hand—
Hope’s angel fires your end of time quartet
For cello, upright cast as concert grand,
A violin and clapped-out clarinet.
The kestrel calls as angels come and go,
St. Francis and his chatting birds both buoy
Us up with clarinet, ondes Martenot
Where there is sadness may I bring a joy.

In wonder at the glories of the word
You dare to celebrate the sacred bird.
How everything is God’s, who’s everywhere:
The Greek, Hindu, Haikai or Balinese,
And all of life, both son et lumière,
Brown-headed cowbirds riding on the breeze.
And then the last Éclairs with all my themes
Assumed in one long fluent genesis;
Four years to shape and yet somehow it seems
A whole life’s timbre pointed towards this.
My God will wipe each tear from waiting eyes,
The salty tears we wept, the teeth we gnashed;
I’m sure I’ve caught Éclairs sur l’au delà
And seen the dazzling love of paradise
In lightening glimpses of a glory flashed,
A Sabbath of beyond, the soul’s aha!

Published in the July 6, 2018 issue: 

Micheal O’Siadhail is Distinguished Poet-in-Residence at Union Theological Seminary. His works include The Five Quintets, Collected Poems, and One Crimson Thread. His new collection, Testament, will be published this month by Baylor University Press.

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