Richard Greene, Crossing the Straits (Toronto: St. Thomas Poetry Series, 2004): 24-26.
2as it leaves the string and nothing follows –
3Their lives, like the last lifting of the bow,
4reach towards a silence that completes them.
5These aged, accomplished women taught
6music, algebra, art, grammar, Latin
7to Catholic girls who came for polish
8to this school, now two lifetimes old.
9Tonight, the last concert before the doors
10close, they sit quietly on stacking chairs
11in the low-ceilinged auditorium,
12listening to choir after choir singing
13brilliantly, voices added to memory.
14 My daughter’s school for one year, I know it
15only by what I see this night, the photographs
16of long-skirted athletes smiling towards
17a now-unfolded future and of girls
18holding violins and cellos in sepia,
19tuning the long strings of the century.
20The heavy oak of stairs and railings
21and the fortifying stone speak of some
22intended permanence that has had its day.
23 How certain the enterprise of Irish
24faith to bring a city of sailors to God
25through its daughters, lift the reprobate town
26by their music, books, piety, beat down
27sin by corporal means, the corrective
28leather to make virtue and a good accent.
29In time, something in them opened to the world,
30their grammars grew sensitive to plurals,
31odd conjugations, things outside the rule.
32The years softened discipline: the tyrant
33nun at twenty learned tolerance by sixty
34in a world of back-answers and short skirts,
35too late, perhaps, to temper satirists
36recycling shtick through TV’s middle age.
37 Fifty or sixty years of the cloister
38have taught the nuns a quietness that holds
39before the students, and there are no tears,
40but all their lives they loved in the work
41and now their loss is likewise
42given to the air in this evening’s sense of things
43done well to the last, apt valediction.
44For them, love was always a deference
45to the good, and tonight the orchestra
46of strings pours out Pachelbel’s Canon,
47the achievement of these women’s lives worked out
48by bows lightly drawn across instruments
49in the hands of girls who barely fathom
50what sorrow is in the perfect thing they make
51or what trust in the silence that follows.
1] Pachelbel's Canon: haunting polyphonic piece by the German composer Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), discovered and popularized in the 20th century. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors
Ian Lancashire / Sharine Leung
Copyright © Richard Greene and used by permission of the poet.
Authorization to republish this poem must be obtained from him in writing.