Première of "Drawing from Life"
A few weeks ago, I finished writing a new piece for alto Nathan Mercieca and pianist Edward Liddall. Last night, it was a real pleasure to sit back and listen as they gave an incredibly sensitive rendition of it at a concert at Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, London. It was part of a programme they had very thoughtfully crafted for World AIDS Day, and the concert raised money for the Terrence Higgins Trust.
The text I chose to set for the piece is by American poet Reginald Shepherd. It is a beautiful, haunting poem told from the perspective of a sick man as all the physical things around him take on different meanings. Here is the full text:
Drawing from Life by Reginald Shepherd
Look: I am building absence
out of this room’s air, I’m reading suppositions into
summer’s script snarled on a varnished floor.
It looks like a man. That knot’s his hand
waving good-bye, that stippled stripe of grain’s
the stacked-up vertebrae of his turned back.
Small birds (sparrows or finches, or perhaps)
are cluttering the trees with blackened ornaments (burning
in the remnant light of August eight o’clock), and noises
I can’t hear. Chirring there, chittering. The window’s closed.
I am assembling a lack of sound
in this locked box, and dotting all the i’s
these floating motes present (my composition), I am not lonely
for the palpable world (midges I dap hands for
and kill), shivering into darkness underwater outside glass:
what’s left of light sinking from zero down to less,
cobalt down to zaffer, deeper to purple-black
where divers drown. The swimming landscape’s
all mistake (one world that shuts air into
my submerged terrarium), and I am luck.
© 1996 University of Pittsburgh Press