Quarter Rest with Fermata
for Richard R. Schantz

On this day
in the Weih-nocturne glow
of this roomful 
of rhombicuboctahedrons
the real augmented by reflection

time isn’t ordinary.

Right on cue
(you always said to anticipate 
entrances in light of narrative)
there you are
by your crystal fountain, posing

unanswered questions
d’arte, d’amore
exposition, disclo(the)sure
(your Sprechstimme unequivocal
still strictly, stubbornly non-rhotic).

You extend, generously
arsis, thesis
up and down, up and down
cleaning Nadia’s windows
still, spotless 
this warm, warm winter’s night.

As sounds surround
a furtive tear 
surplus, not sorrow
sourced, single origin

as you bounded con brio
through the unfound door
du-bing, du-bang
into every room
every Lydian measure.

Such ravish’d sense
isn’t heritable, surely
but I’m a poster child 
for pedagogy
ear training as equipment for living.

So when the needle drops

and the trio’s tonic center shifts
the subduction of memory and moment 
is gut-seizing, pelagic
the psalter’s plainsong 
now impossibly appassionato
the original inconstant to this exuberance

and when the quartet quickens 
weaving, on the octave
a quarrel of words into wunder-bars 
of such sweet discord
the canon ingathers a lifetime 
of quires.

But here’s the rub
the music isn’t in the notes.

So when, finally
the moment arrives
too good to name
but calling me by mine
you tried to make sure I’d be there
will we recognize it for what it is
will we have the time for it

the pause

infinite, ecstatic, legato con amore
before pardon is asked
then answered.¶

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Musical references in the poem


  • Line 1: “On this day” from “Personent hodie” by Gustav Holst
  • Line 11: “crystal fountain” from “Hard by a Crystal Fountain” by Thomas Morley
  • Line 12: “unanswered question(s)” from “The Unanswered Question” by Charles Ives
  • Line 13: “d’arte,” “d’amore” from “Vissi d’arte,” “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini
  • Line 18: “up and down, up and down” from “Fair Phyllis” by John Farmer
  • Line 20: “cleaning Nadia’s windows” refers to the following quote from Nadia Boulanger: “I’d go so far as to say that life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece” (from Mademoiselle: Conversations with Nadia Boulanger by Bruno Monsaingeon, Carcanet Press, 1985).
  • Lines 21-22: “spotless” this “winter’s night” from “A Spotless Rose” by Herbert Howells (with a bit of climate change), with a nod—“still,” “night”—to “Stille Nacht” by Franz Gruber
  • Line 24: “furtive tear” from “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” “L’elisir d’amore” by Gaetano Donizetti
  • Line 29: “unfound door” from “Prelude for Voices” by William Schuman (from Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel)
  • Line 30: “du bing, du bang” from “Warm-Up”, “Mass” by Leonard Bernstein
  • Line 32: “Lydian measure(s)” from “Softly Sweet,” “Alexander’s Feast” by George Frideric Handel (from “Alexander’s Feast; or, the Power of Music” by John Dryden)
  • Line 33: “ravish’d sense” from “With verdure clad,” “The Creation” by Joseph Haydn
  • Lines 39-44: Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, IV. Allegro Appassionato by Felix Mendelssohn
  • Lines 45-50: the canon quartet “Mir ist so wunderbar” from “Fidelio” by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Lines 53-54: “when, finally the moment arrives” from “Giunse alfin il momento,” “Le Nozze di Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Line 55: “too good to name” from “T.G.T.T.” (or “Too Good to Title”), “Second Sacred Concert” by Duke Ellington
  • Line 60: the pause (quarter rest with fermata) just before “Contessa perdono,” “Le Nozze di Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
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    Susanna Schantz is a former teacher of literature for New York City Public Schools, U.S. Department of Education TRIO programs, and the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. She...