In the Atrium of Royal Victoria Hospital

by Bruce Meyer  

There are photographs of Dmitri Shostakovich
bent like a question mark over his keyboard

as he composed (a word for gathering up)
the dissonance of life in Leningrad besieged.

When bombs fell and the city burned, he donned
his fireman’s helmet, ash fluttering skyward

becoming notes in need of staves. Even birds
live on something, and cats in the Hermitage

were always hungry for flights of fancy.
He heard a clock chiming at four a.m.

despite the truth there is no time in wartime.
Today, the trees and valley outside the Atrium

are naked as parallel lines, burnt and leafless,
the rear-guard regiment of vanished life,

soldiers surrendering to a paper sky,
voices starving, waiting for the streets to fill,

peopled in the blink of a Russian spring.
There is no enemy save only time. Music

is the mirror of poetry, both random reflections
brought together, toned, ordered, disordered,

a state of health neither good nor bad,
a place knocked down to be rebuilt.

He believed in phoenixes and shovelled ashes,
paused to see black smears as notes,

played them with frantic ivory fingers.
The dissonance was his tribute to mankind.

After one long November night, soot on his face,
Shostakovich went home and asked how life

could survive arpeggios of anti-aircraft fire,
and stared out his window to the drum of bombers,

his reflection framed in one unbroken pane,
and determined to remake the art of order.

A man in a wheelchair with an i.v. bag,
sighs as his wife brings him his morning coffee,

its steam twisting the tarnished light, its vapours
mocking our war with life, the battles won,

the advantages lost, the cup growing cooler
with each sip he takes. He smiles, sets it down,

and says that it is good. He stares from the window
where startled starlings hammer a March sky,

and is in awe, a moment, at how his face is reflected
against the trees, their pale green nodes of life.

He nods to me. Both of us almost died last night,
but today we live and compose our lives.

— from Juniper Volume 1, Issue 2