Monday, July 26, 2010


I am mortified. I not only have to admit I was wrong, but I have to make this confession on the world wide web. I knew rabbits would not obey the incest law; I did think the shortest day would be a breeding deterrent. But not so.

One and one did not equal three, it equalled five. But Tuzi didn’t stick around very long after he had impregnated his sister. He disappeared back across the road or she packed him off as being no longer necessary. For around four weeks we were fooled, but then one day there was a large quantity of white rabbit fur in the outer enclosure and Teresa thought to investigate the inner hutch. She found a ball of breathing fur which she took, correctly, to be baby rabbits.

We were initially disturbed as, Tuzilina never seemed to be with her offspring, but a google search revealed that baby rabbits do not give off any scent so the mother in the wild keeps her distance in order not to attract predators. As well, rabbits feed only twice a day, early in the morning and early in the evening, it’s the babies’ shared warmth, not any warmth from the mother that keeps them alive. Our ones grew rapidly and within the week were acquiring fur – one white and black like the father, one white and charcoal like the mother and one completely charcoal – by the second week their ears were becoming more and more developed. They emerged from the hutch successively two days apart, so that by the time they were three weeks old, they were all in the inner enclosure and starting to venture into the larger fenced area. At that stage, we were bringing them inside so that I could have a lapful of baby rabbits.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The skull at the feast

Apart from his music, I know very little about Brahms:
a handsome youth, with unfulfilled love for
Clara Schumann, and perfect pitch.
There is a story that he was visiting a house;
he remembered the street name
and that the metal door scraper
sounded E flat but had forgotten
the number. A quick foray
up and down the street
settled the problem.
But this story is surely apocryphal:
why was he not arrested
for loitering with intent?
And do all metal door scrapers
play their own individual notes?

Anyway, the final story is true.
Brahms liked to compose
with the skull of Josef Haydn
beside him.
The skull had undergone adventures.
Filched from its grave
by an eager phrenologist,
but scrupulously returned
to Vienna when the phrenologist died,
it had traveled far.
The story may not be apocryphal
but it still leaves questions hanging.
Was Brahms seeking inspiration
or a reminder of his own mortality?
Inspiration – a breathing in;
conspirators need to breathe together
in a small room; they would not shout
their messages of subversion
across a windy moor
where the words might be blown away
and blazoned across the sky.
Inspiration – of the air
but a skull is earthbound,
of the grave. Was Brahms hoping to gain
inspiration from Haydn
to compose a work that would rattle
his reluctant audience
into acknowledging
their own mortality?
Nor does the story tell
what ultimately happened to the skull.
Did it join the body at Esterhazy?
But there had been a fraudulent skull
of an old man placed with Haydn’s body
which would then need to be removed
into the darkness of its own
anonymous grave.

Thank God, I need no skull on my desk.
The best of my poems seem to come from the air,
as if they are writing themselves;
and my illness offers its own
momento mori.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Life without music

“Life without music would be a mistake.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche

I couldn’t agree more. After lots of fiddle-faddling, I managed to start learning the piano when I was eight (Dad had to stop smoking to pay for the lessons and I had to practise initially on a neighbour’s piano). I started with Step By Step to the Classics, books one to six which introduced me to the company of simple Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Scarlatti and they have been my companions ever since.

Some of the music I listen to is 400 years old, Monteverdi’s Vespers or Sch├╝tz’s Christmas Story, music that was written while Shakespeare was writing his plays and Cervantes had just launched Don Quixote out into the world.

I love belonging to a community of people over so many centuries who have listened to and loved and played and sung these works. In Clara and Robert Schumann’s The Marriage Diaries, she mentions his love of the “great B Minor Mass” and especially the “Et crucifixit, Et resurrexit and the Sanctus”. I love sharing such a passion with a great composer.

I have often tried to decide what work I would take on a desert island, but have never managed to agree with myself until I worded it differently. What work is there in the world that I couldn’t bear never to hear again? It’s not necessarily the greatest, but I couldn’t be without the Bach B Minor Mass. I had four to five weeks of joy when I lived in Melbourne and I sang it with a small choir; every rehearsal you could hear the texture of the parts.

Another work which is for me, a close runner up is the Bach St. Matthew Passion. Recently I had been trying to find the right adjective to describe the opening chord. I could hear it in my head and ran through about 20 possible words such as ‘resolute’ or ‘solemn’. The night the doctor had told me of the dire effects I could suffer from a bowel blockage, I played the first C.D of the three C.D set. Two or three notes in, I knew the word I was looking for was ‘foreboding’. This work always makes me weep and at first I wept for myself, but then like all great art it removed me from the particularity of my own pain and fear and made me weep for the world at large. King Lear with its final line exhorting us to: “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say” would have had the same effect, but this time it was the music: the grandeur of the opening chorus, the disciple’s grief at going to sleep in the Garden of Gethsemane and the wonderful duet plus chorus of “Moon and stars have for grief their light forsaken”.

The weeping was healing, but somehow full of joy. Life without music would be an appalling mistake.