Issue 3Issue 3 LandsJuly 1st, 2015Issue 3 is here!
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Miles Dewey Davis, Jr.
Unbroken, yet the pain of lifting
your right arm remains unbearable,
some terrible shit going down in your blood,
these young dudes, trying to be helpful,
can’t understand what you mumbling,
so they nodding, painting traces
of tired melodies that sicken you
to your soul—where the fuck am I?—
following whatever it is
they think they hearing
cause you a legend, and you recall
how astonishing and cruel you once were
towards your elders and peers, still are, tearing
out thirds from Bird and Diz’s circle,
cutting lesser trumpeters, scolding Trane,
strafing tracks by Haden and Evans,
disassembling modal systems,
driving that sweet group with Herbie
and Wayne in the early 1960s,
then fusion, dropping out, funkalating, walking in
late, blowing whether you cared or not,
turning your back to the audience
when you felt it, chords
so cold they would send brothers
and Swedish gals into paroxysms
cause they could never get enough
of what you withheld. Now
you struggle to cop a breath
to shape a clean note.
Death, keep on stepping.
Truth is, they don’t know a goddamn thing
about Alton, Illinois. They don’t
know what really went down
with the wives and children,
the other women, all those sidemen
whose shadows you carry around
like passkeys inside your harmonies,
how like the tonic in sonata form
what comes around
goes around and payback surely
is a bitch you’re paying
premium right now.
They don’t know what it means
to be a Black dentist’s son,
a scion, trained at Juilliard
and in the dream logic of Harlem,
returning to your daddy’s farm
long past grown, him leaving
you to live or die
in the sweat of your nightmares
in your room above the barn
as you battle the past,
your ghosts and junk,
wrestling like Jacob
the relentless angel that yearns
to slay you, lay you out
so you keep swinging,
burning in those hazy blues
of backrooms and burning spoons,
turning back to every word
and tune that ever sustained you—
finding the breath
to wield a grace note:
Death, not yet.
Tonight: amped to decibels to blow
the eardrums clear of hearing,
bassists and keyboardists
whose names you never learned
or cannot remember,
ancestors and mojos and Ju-Ju
even though your heart
keeps popping like a snare drum
and your ears register
only a red buzzing,
you mount the stage—
or was that yesterday,
when you prepared to state
with your horn what your lips
refuse to bear away,
how it’s not about being a genius
or merely surviving, how nobody ever
sees what goes down in the head
of a brother striving so hard
to make something beautiful
and impregnable and lasting
out of the margins of this blue life,
how the dues you pay never suffice,
and you play and play and play
thinking that moment will come
but it never does, or it came so often
you realized it only too late,
like now, so you’ll always blame
yourself, assume responsibility.
Passion is a song you sing
on your own terms: the set opens,
and you hold your breath
to map the evening’s destiny: sound.
Death, get ready.
Besides English and Italian, Isabella speaks French and Spanish, hates big groups. What kind of big groups? Carola asked. This kind, Isabella said, waving her hand to indicate the Viennese Opera Ball.—Donald Barthelme
Dazzling audiences as a post-apocalyptic holy fool, gunshot bandit, or lovestruck suicide, operatic tenor Jonas Kaufmann is no stranger to catastrophe. After losing his voice while performing a bit part in Parsifal, he struggled to transform himself from an airy lyric tenor to a master of the French, Italian, and Wagnerian dramatic roles. Kaufmann’s singing is baritonal and darkly colored, with seemingly effortless top notes and ethereal pianissimi. While some critics feel distanced by his originalist interpretations—and the box-office vaunting of his Byronic good looks—others are seduced by his musicianship and soaring lyricism. Placido Domingo has called him “one of the best singers I ever heard.” We discover the real Jonas Kaufmann:
Q: Before pursuing your vocal career, you studied mathematics. Think fast, Kaufmann!: If the accursed Kundry mocked Christ in 33 A.D., how old was she when Parsifal baptized her? If Arizona Governor Jan Brewer proclaimed “Jonas Kaufmann Day” on February 24, 2013, how many Not-Jonas-Kaufmann Days will elapse by the 2063 quinquagenary (including leap years!)? Multiply by the number of times Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times has called your voice “virile”?…. Well. Wasn’t it smart to follow your strengths?
Q: Paris Opera’s 2007 La Traviata imagined you and Christine Schäfer as 1960s chanteur Théo Sarapo and his wife, Édith Piaf. With Sarapo’s journey from adenoidal hairdresser to pop superstar so suggestive of your own career, can you discuss the possibility that God gave us your dusky, distinctive voice to resuscitate Sarapo’s oeuvre? If not in Théo: L’Opéra—which you of all people, Bayerischer Kammersänger, could totally commission—then in a song cycle, capitalizing on your success with Winterreise? From Schubert’s “Gefrorne Tropfen fallen / Von meinen Wangen ab: / Ob es mir denn entgangen, / Daß ich geweinet hab’?” to Sarapo’s “A quoi ça sert, l’amour?”: an organic progression, nein?
Q: Why, sure, you have other options. Having already portrayed so many innocently smoldering virgins—Parsifal, Lohengrin, Werther—might you consider bypassing Otello and Tannhäuser to steer straight for the dirty old man roles? Milan may be gunning for a Kaufmann Don Pasquale, but I envision you as Rosenkavalier‘s Baron Ochs, fondling Sophie: “Tender as a pullet! Not very plump—no matter—but so white.” You may not be a bass now, but we’re talking five-year plans.
Q: Or…in the William Kentridge production of The Nose, Paulo Szot nearly got upstaged by the strutting papier-mâché nose. Only imagine: Jonas Kaufmann as The Nose, the rare artist to transition successfully from opera to mime! Shouldn’t you be considering your place in the annals of opera history, and not just coasting on Werther?
Q: Werther: a young man who kills himself for love of a married woman. The Act III aria, “Pourquoi me réveiller?”—that’s what I ask the cat every morning. You sing it like you have a cat, too: “Why awaken me, o breath of spring,” a lilacs-out-of-the-dead-land lament for one’s meaningless existence, fed and then blighted by vain hope, ringing the rafters with agony, then whispering, beseechingly, for it to desist. There’s no way you don’t have a cat.
Q: You debuted as Siegmund in Robert Lepage’s production of the Ring, mingling demigodly vigor (that high A!) with the balmy, vernal tenderness of “Winterstürme.” Tell us about the time that Deborah Voigt (a gleaming, irrepressible Brünnhilde) sneaked you backstage for a midnight ride on The Great Metropolitan Scream Machine, that glitch-prone, 45-ton, seesawing set piece that morphed from Rhine to Rainbow Bridge to flying cavalry: HOJOTOHO, HOJOTOHO, HEIAHA!…. Get out! Lepage told you to get off his fence? Doesn’t he realize that you’re J-Kau, and you can fly like a Walküre any time you damn well please?
Q: Elizabeth Peyton’s many paintings of you, in balsam-and-ether-flowing-through-your-veins mode, joined those of Bowie, Kurt Cobain, and Leonardo DiCaprio at Gavin Brown’s enterprise last year. Critic Peter Schjeldahl called them “points of ardor in the cold world.” Yet, can we agree that the showstoppers were Peyton’s portraits of Met General Manager Peter Gelb, whose Valhallan exorbitance and avidity for under-65 audiences shone from every lick of rosy, nacreous flesh? Didn’t his potency hammer all the rest of you into Nibelungen insignificance? I messengered him a silver rose once, but he never responded, so I tried poisoned violets.
Q: Do heldentenors avoid the Lohengrin “Bridal Chorus” if they marry, lest they raise hopes that they’ll divulge their true identities as Grail Knights, get stabby, and vanish in their feathery boats, because, let’s face it, no bride wants an ordinary wedding night when she could have, instead, a Bayreuth-debut-worthy “Mein lieber Schwan” of floating, otherworldly pensiveness yielding to burnished sensuality and regret?
Q: La Scala made you wade in a marsh for Act III of Lohengrin. Parsifal featured a lake of blood; can it be an accident that The New Yorker‘s Alex Ross said you “gave a fluid but disappointingly indistinct account of the title role”? Emphasis mine. Don’t you get waterlogged? Oh, prosthetic feet—like The Lord of the Rings?…. I hadn’t considered, but your sound does have a Númenórean muscularity, and there’s your lovechild-of-Frodo-and-Aragorn hair…. Well, writing opera-hobbit slash fiction isn’t my bailiwick…. Of course, constantly stuck in airports, you’d need creative outlets…. Sure, “Au fond du temple saint” has some hot Björling/Merrill/Galadriel threesome potential, but do you mind if we get back to discussing craft?
Q: The intimacy of your stage presence is simultaneously its strength and drawback. We’ve witnessed your earnest, minutely observed correlations of line to action, more introspective and natural than traditionally operatic, in the unhinged grin belying Don José’s pleas to Carmen (Royal Opera 2006); the unfocused gaze of Florestan, imprisoned in the dark (Fidelio, Lucerne 2010); and Don Carlo’s teasing grab of his portrait from Elisabetta (Salzburg 2013). How about the Met Shrug, that masculine, New Yorky gesture separating the boys from the men? Every time a hero does a heroine wrong at Lincoln Center—in Norma, Rigoletto, Tosca, Les Troyens—he shrugs: whaddya want? Notably, Peter Seiffert as Tristan, accused of invading Isolde’s country, murdering her fiancé, and kidnapping her to marry his uncle, retorted, “That was resolved,” and did the Met Shrug! With mounting anticipation of your debut as Tristan, what will you bring to this acting challenge? Will you play it big or small, adding the hapless whole-head wobble or the defensive chin jut?
Q: A BMW promo shows you driving and singing “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée,” sounding like anybody who sings in the car and happens to be the International Opera Awards Best Male Singer of 2013. Does it embarrass friends when you join in on “Happy Birthday”? Do you karaoke?…. I can’t believe that the man who sang Faust and Siegmund back-to-back is scared of karaoke! Look, we’ll hit Koreatown, and we’ll start you easy, with a duet: “Ebony and Ivory,” “I Got You Babe,” “Leather and Lace”…. You can be Stevie Nicks; I’ll be Don Henley. Or vice versa! Don’t be silly: either way, you’ll acquit yourself like a Meistersinger.
Man Ray for breakfast. Man Ray for lunch. Man Ray to bring the
mimosa and a single flower to your sickbed, on Valentine’s Day,
like your mother used to do in winter when the steps of the
mason temple were filled with snow and your dog was young and
joyful and you could not make it once around the block without
As Lucille Ball as it is Frieda Kahlo, lips blood red
and impaled in the worst of places. Mexican too, like the sixty-
year-old cross-dressers you sat with on Fridays, when the
express 333 was full to Venice Beach and their red hair was
thinning in front and in back. Like the colors on your road trip
to Texas where New Mexico’s skies were a baby blue also, and the
winds at the rest stops were whipping and twirled you, in your
yellow/white jersey, eating pancakes alone. It’s the postcard
your lover made, with her girlfriend before you, in Scotland, as
babies. Her cheeks in black & white. The red rose in the
foreground was a magician’s prop, or was it? Go search and see,
in your bags of evidence and memories that you hate to look at,
just waiting for fire, or instead for the Polaroid of her,
rosebud nipples in your sister’s apartment, summer in Brooklyn
and all that must mean. Or use a fucking telephone where she
lives now, in Oregon, with that other nude model, the one in oil
pastel who posed as a bowler and a baseball player and was
impaled also, much later, same location.
A bone of some
thing not human
an animal bone
small dull white
an arc rounding to edges
cut with canyons
that once ran
There are tiny holes at the edges
pin pricks that lead to a
hidden hollow land
where creatures who see
dark as light live and love
their bony lives
The curve in the middle
like a dancer
bending to song
lifting to spirit
The rough brown edges
blood dried blood lost
dark flesh darkened by
the flesh that
housed the bone
It has scars like me
its naked shape unafraid
to show where it hurts
where fissures cleave in two
separate the flesh once connected
What god once joined
man put asunder
There is a song in the bone
There is a song in the hollow
There is a song in the scar
I sing it
At night the mice run wild inside our walls, breeding filthy nests of young. They keep my mother from sleep.
– Did you hear them? she says in the morning. She’s wearing a quilt like a chiton, and palming bales of wire wool.
– I didn’t, I say.
– You didn’t see the spiders either.
Last week, at supper, there was a hatching. Tiny, translucent spiders trickling up from the corner. It was just the two of us—all the men have left. She got them with a napkin before they got very far.
My childhood bedroom is in ruin. She says she is over fixing up, but she’s agreed to put the mattress back and patch the drywall where the mice were heard. I found a box of my picture books stashed like smut in the crawlspace. And my old desk, cobwebbed and cowering out in the shed.
She called me down the other day. I was writing. I haven’t written since the split.
– There’s a woodchuck up in the cedar. He’s so fat. He’s going to fall.
He was gone when I got there. She was standing by the back door, radiating light. I’ve noticed lately that the sun will come through her and she will glow all over the kitchen.
He looked like a tunneler, she said. She scratches her braid when she’s strategizing. She’s stopped dyeing her greys.
– We’re losing the deck to the chipmunks. I’ve seen their hole. I’m going to stuff the hose down it this afternoon.
There was a time when she loved the chipmunks and had a name for each one. There was a time when she read The Mitten to me and sewed finger-puppets out of felt. Now, she keeps an owl at her arm. It snatches the swallows from under the eaves. I hear their little guh and my pen goes off the page.
– I’ve been working on the same sentence for weeks, I say at dinner.
– What’s that? she says. She’s pulling some kind of roast out of the oven.
– Do you ever hear from Dad?
When she looks at me, her eyes are marble.
– The war against the wild is unwinnable, she tells me.
She eats and reads schematics for a system of spits.
– I might have to kill this novel, I say.
– Even death is a thing that Nature wills.
-Who said that? I ask. But she is looking out into the night.
When the eating is over, the whole house becomes quiet. The air echoes itself, as in a temple.
I go up to my desk. I keep a picture in the top drawer. An image of an echo: just a bit of tissue that used to nest inside me. I feel another sentence rising, ready to burst whole from my head. But then, a sound. A tiny scratching. Just inside the walls.