"The Kissed Mouth":
Words, for an Unrealized Song Cycle

DG Rossetti - Beata Beatrix - Art Institute of Chicago

At the end of 2012 and into early 2013, I wrote a group of verses intended for use in a song cycle. 

The project came my way through Garrett Shatzer, who has since retired from composition. Although he and I would eventually collaborate in 2014 on two other standalone choral songs — "Beset", which made its way to Rome, and "The Map of the Clock" for the Sacramento Youth Chorus [Attention choral directors: listen here, it's very good!] — but various things fell apart and that original song cycle never advanced to the point of actually being set to music. When Garrett stepped away from the composing game, the verses reverted to their author, this fool, and there they remain.

The original task was to craft a group of song texts linked thematically, to be set for two singers. Soprano and tenor voices were the plan, although I would be just as happy if either or both were pegged lower down: I am partial to mezzo sopranos and baritones, myself. No particular theme was suggested, and I soon inclined toward having the singers be characters and toward a set of songs knocking on the door of, if never quite gaining admittance to, the realm of chamber opera. The tenor part would be for a single character, but the soprano would have three.

I proposed the story of a man in Victorian England, who would be called upon of an evening by three apparitions. The man I settled upon was the poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whose life provided any number of candidates for the three soprano spirits. From that pool, I settled on Elizabeth Siddal, who modeled repeatedly for Rossetti and others of his Pre-Raphaelite circle, married Rossetti, and died; Jane Burden Morris, also a frequent Pre-Raphaelite model, who married William Morris but also carried on a longstanding relationship with Rossetti; and Beatrice Portinari, as idealized by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy, and as further idealized by Rossetti throughout his artistic career. Visions of these three appear to Rossetti as he is on the verge of death. He is granted by Beatrice a small personal apotheosis.

The title of the piece became The Kissed Mouth, derived from Boccaccio by way of a Rossetti painting, Boca Baciata, the principal model for which was Fanny Cornforth, who does not appear in these verses even though, of the women important to Rossetti, she is the one, apart from his sister Christina, most likely to have actually been near at the time of his death. As I remark elsewhere, Fanny Cornforth deserves some verses and music of her own one day.

I like The Kissed Mouth, and I am pleased to have had the occasion to write it. When the original project still had some prospect of coming to fruition, I did not circulate the text much beyond the potential participants in it. When its original purpose ended, I never got around to publishing it elsewhere, until now.

I have set up The Kissed Mouth on a group of pages separate from the main body of this blog. It can be read complete, at a single go, or it can be accessed through a page that links to its individual subsections, which are also linked to one another. There are even notes and some description of the sources for the bits of Rossetti's own poetry, and the allusions to Keats and Dante, that were incorporated into the fabric of the piece. As Beatrice sings near the end: Enter here!

 

A Self-Serving Message Directed to Composers: If you find anything here (or elsewhere in the Poetry postings on this blog) that strikes your fancy, or that gives you the impression that I might be able to concoct a text or ten that might be of use to you in your own projects, I am easy to find. Inquiries welcome. My dreams of becoming a freelance librettist refuse to die. Being as I am an aging white male myself, I have a particular interest in working with those who are not one or more or any of those things.

~~~

Photo:    Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, Art Institute of Chicago.

The Kissed Mouth © 2013 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.


I know this much is true

I know this much is true
according to

reports of eyewitnesses to reports from the scene

or presumed friends of the presumed eyewitnesses

not so much friends really
as acquaintances   
or
well-informed former acquaintances
who to be honest don't always follow them that closely
maybe half a dozen of those

two sources familiar with articles about the folks they heard had had the conversation

the gall bladder of a small pigeon,
distended and porpoise-shaped
with glints of mica

the usual suspects
the usual guilty parties
the ostensibly innocent parties
the lawyer of their lawyers’ lawyers
or a spokesperson for the aforesaid

you
wasn't it you I heard it from

a persistent patch of lint in the trap
seemingly burning but yet unconsumed
and still there each time I look

fox news, or maybe hedgehog news

three aides who later sought first aid after smacking heads as they were all three attempting to listen at one time at the relevant keyhole

a senior white horse souse

yo mama
mine as well

that little voice
you know the one yeah that one

from out the patch of lint

yeah that one


unicartograficorm

Alexander_Jamieson_Celestial_Atlas-Plate_25

The creatures that dwell in the margins of maps
are a destination in themselves
sought after sometime captured in glimpses
in sidelong nets and backhanded pitfalls
by trickery on reflection
via deception
or inveiglement

wishes are horses
horses are unicorns
manatees mermaids
rumors immaculate proof

what might one find
beneath the sargassum
what might one find
living its life
adrift on a plastic subcontinent

here there be Maps
of where here is
of where there was
here there be Maps
of what you will

will what you will make of it
seek and pursue
rise as you will or can
along the lifting and plastic lines of the compass rose


North from Lodi, Early December

All morning on the Interstate through fog
past cattle bathed in fog and maybe goats
recruited to crop down the marginal grass
of tracts of Interstate-adjacent homes

one drives all morning on the Interstate
past fog-blest cattle fog-bathed baby goats
past crops at dawn, distrait fog-margined grass
Those homes
This fog
The interstate
That grass

The speed and turbulence of all that drives
the Interstate sweeps all the roadbed clear
of fog. The fog holds off a bit, askance,
the driver's glance still barred beyond the marge.

The pavement seems so smooth, as smooth
As suede as fleece as milk as sheep as goats,
and on each side secreted by that fog
the grass-green grasses grow beneath the stock.

The grass grows green-o, rushing rushers rush
and still the fog sifts, self-absorbed and still

and mops the moist and misted eye that drives
all morning on the Interstate through fog.


The Short Line

The short line-

Old friends
What ends

Do we work toward?
Depends

Who is on board.
Amends

May need to be made
But who is repaid?

Who is
Dismissed?

Whose words
Do we twist?

And who's ignored?
Let's postulate

Amid the mists
That life is hard

The times suggest
There's no reward

And young things end
As old, friends


The Bridal Veil Falls in Autumn

The Bridal Veil Falls in Autumn

Wick’d by wisps of air
Or spread akimbo
By the press of wind
Across the faceted cliff face
Skewed in descent
The creek-rush waters
Fall as water falls
That has no choice

They are fewer now –
Those still, infinitous drops that drop en masse
From the precipitating lip –
Than they were in spring
Fewer yes but clearer to the eyes
Of we who tip our sockets up to see

In places such as this it seems
We are not out of Eden yet
Yet we are
At all times walking
Toward Eden’s sole and outbound gate

Wickèd the heirs
Of whate’er has made
Such a space out of space
Waking in error
Where an angelic blade
Keeps that portal in place

We will reach it too, too soon
But likely not tomorrow

Look up and up and
Drink the air before you
Walk back down the tarmacked trace
To your lot

And still the falls
fall in the fall
never still
though not at their full
they never falter
Still the falls
fall for free
for all
in their fall
they never alter

Meantime the air drinks deep
From vaporizing waters
Watched by other fallen folk
Who stand and point and press
Until they too withdraw

~~~

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.

Photo by the blogger.


Steal Away, Dandy (song)

Steal away dandy


A plate of cold deviled eggs looking back at me
like that old devil moon.
And I hold a beveled glass full of Beaujolais
and a runcible spoon.
    An ice cold Grüner
    In a frosted schooner
Is your potation of choice on this island Earth
where we all stand marooned.

    When the stereo blasts “O Fortuna”,
    It's a wonder you didn't leave sooner:
    Steal away, Dandy,
    Don't let those French doors hit you too hard.

At the end of the drive there's an Uber-mensch
with a smile and a lift.
As he hands you an ale and an allen wrench,
it seems a natural gift.
    Ill at ease with the notion
    Of Eternal Devotion,
With a gesture you're moving at speed to the beach
As a swallow is swift.

    Still the stereo blasts “O Fortuna”,
    Bottles empty and I should have seen sooner:
    Steal away, Dandy,
    Don't let those French doors hit you too hard.

I've heard Arnold once heard it, and Sophocles,
both long withdrawn from the world.
That sound you don’t catch catches you:
a kaleidoscope tumbling curl.
    There is one wave in seven
    Lofting hell-bent to heaven.
Washed by sea wrack and sand and you envy the grit
In the heart of the pearl

    You wonder what Life means to teach you
    When the rescue lines cannot  quite  reach you:
    Steal away, Dandy,
    Adrift a few yards too far from the shore.

(Hey now hey now:
don't dream it's Dover….)

~~~

Note: The attentive reader might well deduce that this set of verses is meant as a pastiche/homage to the lyrics of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, aka Steely Dan. And that attentive reader would be entirely correct. With the recent passing of Walter Becker, I found myself drawn to listen to his first solo record, 11 Tracks of Whack (1994), and realizing just how much of the Steely Dan sound should properly be credited to him. I also, at some point, discovered that the first two lines of this thing had formulated in my mind. So I set to work to write a full set of lyrics "in the style", and here they are. There is a melody to all this that exists in my head, drawing from the lope of "Home at Last" with a dollop of Fleetwood Mac's "Hypnotized".  Should we ever meet, I will venture to sing it, unaccompanied, but will forebear for a price.


Tent

IMG_20170813_212937_processed


An emptied tent in an open field
On a slanting brushland
beyond the dunes
This is my heart
This is my heart

A peg wrenched loose by a skewing pole
And a wrinkled door flap
flotsamed by gusts
This is my heart
This is my heart

Dust cast off crusts and a shredded rug
Of a homely pattern
shunted aside
This is my heart
This is my heart

A bowl with a dried on smear of broth
And no table under
no spoon nearby
This is my heart
This is my heart

Look at this: spare and indelicate
An envelope fabricked
of yearning air
Enter my heart
Enter my heart

An emptied tent in an open field
Vacancy draped atop
unyielding earth
This is my heart
Enter my heart

Empty   my heart

~~~

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.

Photo by the blogger.


Vitriel

Vitriel

 

Removing the mirror leaves two spaces empty:
The space before, a space behind,
And yet a third: the space between
What is seen and what is there to be seen.

Behind the wall that stood behind the mirror
Another absent mirror stands implied.

Before the wall that stands disclosed
Where once a mirror tossed transverted vistas
Back to its observer in its obverse world
Essay it as you saw once in a film:
Extend a gloved hand or hesitant finger
To probe through absences of images of what was where to find a way to there
By a push and a press
At the melting emptiness
With palms and inner knuckles then a wrist
A sleeve an elbow soon enough a shoulder and
In one membranous pop perhaps yourself.

Be still as limpid sheer reflective water
Be sure as you are still as you approach
The tensing surface of that vacancy
In transit toward
Another side an other side aside
Astride a sliding shine of faceted glass
And as
Silvered glass may pass for mercury
Hermetic ceilings lower in suspense
A wingèd heel extends its healing wing
And then is flown.
Persistent vision’s memory insists
Though silvered glass might pass that you will not.

The mirror would not yield if it was there
Its emptied place yields less
The vacant wall yields least of all

~~~

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.

Photo by the blogger.