Small Swishings of Joy

The last page of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations

Life Is Not What You

expected — cows
ruminate by the highway
even in rain or bat their
ears forward and back and how
you thought the story of your life
would get told: the children you thought
you’d already have by now partially grown
books and other accomplishments — houses
owned cities seen lakes traversed — and now
we’re stuck in traffic
and it’s not even rush hour
with the hurricane storm
moving slowly north from Alabama.
How come it’s raining here already
somewhere south of Albany — just one
damned thing after another and those
injections you’ve had to give yourself and
your dad’s bypass surgery. Just look:
Evening primrose all along the roadside match
the painted line and Queen Anne’s lace
on the other side rows of young corn
joe-pye weed blurred to Scottish heather.
When you go for a walk blackberries have started
ripening you    pluck two
from each bush notice tadpoles suck air
along the fountain’s rim. Such small swishings
of joy maybe
this is it — every day puts forth a new song deer flies
dive-bombing your head when the breeze
lets up —

–Sharon Dolin

This poem brings feelings to the surface that are closely aligned with those I felt after seeing the Boston production of Moisés Kaufman‘s 33 Variations. Juxtaposing Beethoven‘s creation of the inimitable Diabelli Variations with the slow demise of a passionate but overly cerebral musicologist from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, the play is full of missed opportunities to seize the day and celebrate life, those “small swishings of joy.” As dire as the circumstances in this story are, the play’s ending is a redemptive one as the characters assemble on stage to dance a minuet to variation #33, the final from Beethoven’s masterful work. All the time we are holding the knowledge that this work, probably the greatest variation ever written, was created by Beethoven from a simple beer hall waltz during the years when he was losing his hearing. No, life is not what you expected. Yes, life is not what you expected.

Thank you to Linda Crawford for sending me Sharon Dolin‘s poem.

Note: 33 Variations, starring Boston’s own inimitable Paula Plum, is at the Lyric Stage through February 2.

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  1. Altoon’s avatar

    Yes, it’s “slow swishings of joy”!

    1. deborahbarlow’s avatar

      Dolin’s whole poem is a beauty.

    2. Maureen’s avatar

      Love the phrase “small swishings / of joy”. Sometimes, I think it is those we least expect; when they come, how wonderfully they open us to the world.

      1. deborahbarlow’s avatar

        Thanks Maureen. I assume you are a Dolin fan too.

      2. Elana Jan Bodine’s avatar

        Swishings are small and relatively quiet. They are gentle and don’t intrude, but, if we listen carefully and look closely, we will always find them and our lives will be the richer for doing that. The good life is always in the details, the small moments and discoveries…seek and you shall find.

        1. deborahbarlow’s avatar

          Jan, the good life in the details. So easy to forget. Thanks for stopping by.

        2. singingbirdartist’s avatar

          what a lovely start to my day, thanks! to me this
          links to mary oliver’s instruction to pay attention…

          1. deborahbarlow’s avatar

            Thank you, and so glad you connected with this poem too.

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