Dreamers' Songs: Nancy Bevilaqua's Poems

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“Imagine”: A Poem for My Son on the Night Before He Starts College

My life has, over the past few months, changed in some monumental ways. My mother died in early July; we had our issues, but now if feels as if an enormous presence in the world has gone (or, as Springsteen puts it in a song: “I woke up this morning and something big was gone”). I miss her.

And I’ve decided to move back to Hoboken, where I belong. I’m in the process of buying my first home.

Finally, my son, Sandro, is moving into his college dorm tomorrow. Middle school and high school were tempestuous for us both; Sandro weathered so much with grace and dignity and perseverence, and it’s finally time for him to see for himself that, as they say, “It gets better.”

Not that high school didn’t have its (really) high points–it’s where Sandro really started to discover his talents as an actor, a singer, and a guitar and piano player and, more recently, as a composer.

The following poem is one I wrote shortly after I saw him sing a solo at his school’s Spring Chorus Concert. I think that I was about as astonished as I’ve ever been in my life when he began to sing–I’d had no idea what a beautiful voice he had. And the song… Parenting doesn’t get much better than nights like that.

So, as a tribute to my incredibly talented, kind, smart, honest, funny, and so many other things son Sandro, as he heads off into (as he said yesterday) the beginning of the rest of his life, I wanted to post this poem:

Imagine

            (For Alessandro)

 

Wise is the child of disaster.

 

So silent in the mornings now, all day

slow to speak.  He’s been sighing at the way

the world behaves, the human way it’s done.

Crisis in his core of dream: he’s fifteen.

It had to come.  Not that he can hear it now,

 

not from me, but he’s the boy whose infant eyes

of all the neon facets of First Avenue

addressed the patient ghost of moon,

child who saw the silent songs of daffodils

defiant of the snow, the frozen

unrelenting dirt below.  He blooms too, voice

 

a revelation as he sang

Imagine, for three minutes gone,

ascension, glory and misgiving

in an auditorium and all was hushed

and stunned and dark around him

and he didn’t even know.  I would say,

 

if he could hear it, Let it go, let it go.

Take the Les Paul, the daydream drift of mind

that touches everything, prismatic

intellect and young boy’s eyes.  Find God’s voice

in the certain currents of your own,

take your fix of grief, your smarting hands,

 

get to where the strong stars overslip, master

your music, goad with outrageous compassion.

Hit the road.  Misread notes of the indifferent songs

you’ll be told to play, walk offstage,

strive to get the way it’s done

absolutely wrong.

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Holding Breath

(From Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days)

HOLDING BREATH

April dusk drained, while I was out,

into your mouth, the black

collapsing cave, your glottis ticking off

 

last swallows of the day. You watched tides

receding, patterns on the rug

recounting dreams, frail fingers

 

fingering cold fences

that held you in your bed.

Coming in with sheets

 

and pillows from Delancey, I smelled your skin

beleaguered., tasting itself, falling

away, the smell of fruit

 

rotting in a bowl, unnaturally sweet.

The nurse dismissed, I prematurely lit the room

with candles against night.

 

Then night began, a shadow

lapping in the shallow moments. Rats

and pigeons rustled, pestilent,

 

trapped in walls; open windows lifted tongues,

sending quiet cadenced prayers

to infiltrate God’s monotone. Your eyes,

 

slow fish, slid in wide ellipses

while I prepared us for the caterpillar ride

to dawn. By nine I lay

 

against your back between the rails, your muteness

sharp against murmurs from the street,

against the muffled rush of breeze

 

through pale fingers of new leaves. Hooded figures

flickered and bowed

in gestures of atonement on the walls.

 

There was nothing to do

but wait. I lay you down. Sometime that night

your whisper broke

 

an interval of sleep. I need,

you said. I waited while

you shook it from inside your head.

 

I need someone

to hold my breath for me. That night

I never slept again,

 

imagining you driving on some prairie road,

your arm dancing in the wind outside the window

with the rhythm of a country song.

 

I warmed your back curved hard

against sleep, passing the hours preparing

for the time that we had left.

 

–Nancy Bevilaqua

 

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