the birds that night

the birds that night were saying no
more than they had to,
they were saying no more, they
were saying no more than they had,
so the conductor of the night
stopped it, saying,
“first bird, mark the slurs
and for godsake get their beaks
opening together. listen,”
he said, “if you can hear
yourself, you’re too loud.”
night after night the same—they’d pretend
not to know the score, or not the same
score, which he knew by heart,
he just needed a good band and some
rehearsal time, but every night a concert?
conducting hadn’t been his first love,
maybe, but now he feels
responsible for the night,
a sloppy cut-off, a tempo too brisk
for clean runs and—no one’s fault
but his, the score a communal story
but someone has to lead.
but they’re prima donnas, each
hears his own night
and can keep it up till dawn.
Cover of TLR's "How to Read Music" issueJudy Rowe Michaels, a poet-in-the-schools for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and poet-in-residence at Princeton Day School, is author of Reviewing the Skull.

“the birds that night” was originally published in How To Read Music (TLR, Spring 2010).