Letters to the Future: May Swenson (1919 – 1989)

May 15, 2006

May SwensonOne of the great poets I discovered whom I had not known before I started this project is May Swenson. The plan in “Letters to the Future” was to involve only living poets. May had been dead for four years but for her work speaks to us clearly today and her poem “Symmetrical Companion” seemed a perfect fit for a piece about poets’ views of the future. Her reclusive partner gave me permission to set the poem. This movement is scored for three synthesizers, bass (me), drums and men’s chorus. It is probably one of the jazziest pieces I’ve ever written. All the drum parts sound improvised, but they are all written down.

Here is a recording of the instrumental version of this piece. It’s an odd duck; the music is good, I’m just skeptical about it’s ability to ever be done again. Maybe Fred Hersch will to a cover of it someday. Hey, that would be very cool.

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Symmetrical Companion

It must be
there walks somewhere in the world
another
another namely like me

Not twin
but opposite
as my two hands are opposite

Where are you
my symmetrical companion?

Do you inhabit
the featureless fog
of the future?
Are you sprinting
from the shadows of the past
to overtake me?

Or are you camouflaged
in the colored present?
Do I graze you every day
as yet immune to your touch
unaware of your scent
inert under your glance?

Come to me
Whisper your name
I will know you instantly
by a passport
decipherable to ourselves alone

We shall walk uniformed
in our secret
We shall be a single reversable cloak
lined with light within
furred with dark without

Nothing shall be forbidden us
All bars shall fall before us
Even the past shall be lit behind us
and seen to have led
like two predestined corridors
to the vestibule of our meeting

We shall be two daring acrobats
above the staring faces
framed in wheels of light
visible to millions
yet revealed only to each other
in the tiny circular mirrors
of our pupils

We shall climb together
up the frail ladders
balancing on slender
but steel-strong thongs of faith

When you leap
my hands will be surely there
at he arc’s limit

We shall synchronize
each step of the dance upon the wire
We shall not fall
as long as our gaze is not severed

Where are you
my symmetrical companion?

Until I find you
my mouth is locked
my heart is numb
my mind unlit
my limbs unjoined

I am a marionette
doubled up in a dark trunk
a dancer frozen
in catatonic sleep
a statue locked
in the stone

a Lazarus wrapped
in the swadling strips
not of death
but of unborn life

a melody bound
in the strings of the viol
a torrent imprisoned
in ice
a flame
in the coal
a jewel hidden
in a block of lava

Come release me
Without you I do not yet exist

May Swenson

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