The Virtues of Calamity                                                 

            Nowadays they dish the music up
            Like spinach to a kid
            And sandwich it between
            Events I always tended to avoid:
            Pre-concert lectures and post-concert
            Empty cafés and a sodden Sunday afternoon
            Had forced my hand, so I had time to kill
            And found myself among an audience of few
            Before the show
            The pianist was an elderly man,
            Pudgy and a bit unkempt,
            A Russian I had never heard of
            Visiting the provinces on tour,
            About to play a programme not
            So likely to be swallowed easily –
            Beethoven: opus 111,
            Scriabin: Sonata number 10
            He was speaking philosophically
            About the instrument
            But I somehow couldn’t seem to catch his drift:
            To me the piano might be overloud, cacophonous,
            Discordant or perhaps inconsequential
            In effect, but not a source of pain
            Besides, it all depended on the
            Player’s touch
            And it was then I spied the missing half a finger
            On the hand he waved to make his point,
            His right
            My father’s stub resembled his:
            A half-inch shorter than the pinky
            It was next to,
            Visible especially when he shaved
            And though my father wasn’t shy
            The most he said about it was
            That every loss always entailed a gain
            I didn’t think he meant the stutter
            That began after the injury
            And never went away,
            Nor did I ask
            It made for problems, naturally . . .
            Woken from such thoughts
            By faint applause, I settled back
            And speculated on the plethora of notes
            The pianist would invariably omit
            I was mistaken, for the Russian
            Tossed the compositions off
            The way a matador might wield a cape
            Whatever he had done to compensate
            Had done the trick:
            I couldn’t hear that he had missed a beat
            And for the encore, a Scriabin poem,
            He used his stump to sound the final note
            When any other digit would have done
            A more than competent performance
            All in all, against the odds
            When afterwards I appeared,
            The second – and the last – in line,
            To get his signature,
            I couldn’t help but blubber on
            About the disability
            He gazed at me a moment –
            Then, offering his hand to shake,
            Closed tight enough on mine
            So that I winced a bit
            While telling me in whispers
            That to make a virtue of necessity
            Required nothing special:
            Calamity alone
            Brought out the best because it
            Meant a person had to choose
            I nearly fainted from his boozy breath
            But once he eased his grip
            I saw my father in a slightly different light


            Emanuel E. García, The Virtues of Calamity, One Hundred Poems2013

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