Victor Altshul's 'Auditioning For Bohème At Eighty'

Hartford Courant

Editor's note: Welcome to CT Poet's Corner, a monthly feature highlighting poetry by Connecticut authors.

This month's poetry is by Victor Altshul, for nearly 50 years a practicing psychiatrist in New Haven. He is associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and also a marathon-runner, rower, and opera singer, having appeared in "La Bohème,'' "Madama Butterfly,'' and other operas. He is the author of two poetry collections, "Stumblings'' and Singing with Starlings.

Both of the following poems spring from Victor Altshul's lifelong love of music and are dedicated to the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. The first of Victor Altshul's poems is at first merely a delightful rhyming jeu d'esprit (no mean feat in itself), but on a second look it grows into a love affair between two different worlds, a communion breaking down artificial barriers. The wit of the poem is a sheer delight, as when the narrator speaks of being flushed by a bird rather than flushing it with gun in hand. And then that lovely pun at the end: "Love is in the air."

—CT Poet Laureate Rennie McQuilkin

Auditioning For Bohème At Eighty

Some say that being old can be a bore:

joints creak, bones groan, throats croak;

yet richer tones, soaring from my shower floor,

startle fledgling starlings high in the oak,

a piping chorus I hear crying, "Encore!"

I push my rusting baritone high,

and higher still – I can be the guy

who gets the girl! I hit an A, and then B-flat,

then out comes "Che gelida manina," just like that,

a dashing tenor filling up the sky!

Absurd to hope that from that sky will come

an answering call — in fact the trees grow quiet

at my screech — a turn-off, I can't deny it.

A baritone should stay put and not assume

a bird will want to flush him from his home.

But wait! Is that a starling's call I hear?

She's singing — God! "Mi chiamano Mimi!"

Soprano pure and tender — I can see

her floating toward me through the morning's glare.

I feel it, darling! Love is in the air!

After that delightful romp, Victor Altshul gives us another lovely example of the poetry of music, a poem to break and reassemble our hearts:

French Horn In The Early Evening

She will have to rush to make the plane

to play tomorrow in a distant town.

Mother, who may not reach her

hundredth year, says

"Play me something on your horn."

From its leather case she guides it out,

long ago bequeathed her

by her grade-school music teacher,

that over time its round tones

might salve the ache of father,

decades gone,

and she plays patches

of a Mozart concerto, and watches

mother close her eyes and gently fall

into the softness of her bed,

smiling, breathing with the music's grace.

Well past time she hurries to the hall

but leaves behind what's most precious

of herself.

Copyright © 2015 by Victor Altshul

Poetry cordially offered by Connecticut Poet Laureate Rennie McQuilkin, who invites you to read more of Victor Altshul's work by visiting antrimhousebooks.com. Please note that poetry is selected for this column by invitation.

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