Mahler’s Ninth

for Mary MacRae*

No music in Le Pain Quotidien. Voices clatter,
crockery shrills white but the raspberries in my tartlet
are unblemished, lucent as the red in your poem.

‘If it wasn’t for the noise this would be perfect,’
I say, ‘but we can’t have everything.’
And at once I see you, my dear friend,

in a coma, hour by hour your life slipping away –
you can’t have anything. I stay with you
as we join the pilgrims trailing down Exhibition Road.

In the Albert Hall everyone waits for the symphony
Mahler composed when he learnt he had an illness
doctors couldn’t cure, a symphony he never heard.

Its beginning is tentative as if the instruments
are trying to find a way to talk to one another.
Phrases quiver into findings which become losings

but as the movement closes harmony’s found.
Now, somewhere in the surge of strings, the poignancy
of woodwind is you, Mary, and the brightness of red

you want to be inside. All too soon we arrive
at the finale. The music opens out and soars
but each time it nears a climax it retreats.

How will this end – with orchestra and audience
lifting to those waterlily circles spanning
the dome? No, the instruments are quietening,

their hushed voices hover, fall away.
There isn’t anything now but the five thousand
held together in a silence larger than sound.

© Myra Schneider

This poem is from The Door to Colour and published here with the permission of the poet and publisher.

* Mary MacRae wrote two collections of poetry As Birds Do and Inside the Brightness of Red


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