During Sibelius’ Symphony #2, horses gallop on distant pastures. Waves lift the reeds and
muscles trade with trembling strings. I smell leather. Hollows fill and water splashes
from hoof-beats. Out of step. Wind scatters the waves. A body cannot contain the liberations nor
fires where sweet smoke rises and stars feel the repercussions. Hush. Silver burnish and polished
brass. Pearl moon on hot leather. The water’s unleveling.
At the internment, we set the horses free. They crossed the empty field through shadow and
made a path to the burial. They gathered behind us. When we opened the ground, water filled the
hollow. I felt the shovels in my chest. We set the ashes with fallen feathers into the underground
river, left notes. The words were taken. The earth was put back in place and the dead began to
travel. The horses retreated as if they came to the last gate and it closed in their faces. The weight
is heavy. I know the horses will come back. Eventually they will go over break through.
In the ragged hymn, brass plates, a corrosion. About a hundred horses, racing. The body with its
headache. We push back our chairs. Remembering the horse’s posture, the body with its slopes
and glorious veins, dilating. A poetry of silence. Of mares. Meanwhile, a boat founders in a
hurricane beyond rescue, a far sound we could hear behind glass. The heat has risen, and there is
need for what will surely never come.
Blooded, going forward, at the pace of a heartbeat. Horses roll into the capillaries follow the
conductor from the concert halls to other listening walls. Never for the last time, into ice with
vodka and cranberry and lime, blankets wet and steaming.
On diamonds, they prance in iron shoes on roads through fiasco and strife. On the dark night, the
strike. There was an opera in the house, and a crisis on the measures. A circle of quarter horses
with braided manes run through the languages. They touch things that collapse: one great wall
and a country on its continent. The circle run through graves and things that could be said only
In horsepower, the soloist excels, a seeming fragile body given over to its violin. She’s a
racehorse. The flanks and haunches. Ears back, ears forward. In the ebb of sound, supremacy.
Chaos and howling war. We can’t hear our own voices. We can’t tune it out. Hay in the loft
spontaneously combusted. The wind is holding out flags and the color is red. We brace against
the wind, lean hard as they round. Heedless riders. When the wind dropped, we fell. Got up
again. Shoulders in.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis, music as politics, etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**
Sheila Packa has four books of poems, and she edited an anthology, “Migrations.” Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Almanac, Cortland Review, Chicago Memoryhouse, Ploughshares, Jet Fuel Review, Rock & Sling, and several anthologies. 2010-2012, she was Duluth’s Poet Laureate. Four poems were used by Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas in a cantata premiered by the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Osmo Vänskä, in February 2016.