drawing by Debra Galant
two poems by Heather Newman
I’m invited to drink and sing around the piano.
I’m that standby you call when you need a lounge
act or reveler for the company Christmas bash.
There’s a judge jamming on the Steinway, a scientist
who’d rather belt than study DNA, his ninety-five
year-old mother who looks twenty years younger,
and I tell her so. She corrects me. “Only twenty?”
My friend plays maestro and turns the pages of
sheet music, three sheets to the wind, a few bars
too early and the chorus gets sloppy. Not me.
Tonight I refrain which is the best part of a song.
Remember the refrain, I repeat to myself,
remember the refrain. I’m thinking abstain
but I’m singin’ Oklahoma.
A 1980 CRUISE
He was that Tom
but he could have been any Tom,
Dick or Harry, he was a regular guy,
a suburban kid,
answering “yes m’am,”
“yes sir,” a certain attitude
I would call grateful,
even as a high schooler.
He played football
and Led Zeppelin with the other guys
but there was this one thing:
he danced disco –
when only the girls would dance disco,
he dared to go Travolta.
I remember once before a prom
he was dancing disco in the hall,
he took a turn with all the dates
and that smile, it was killer,
we had no idea
what was in store,
clanging weights down in the basement
with my brother
like he didn’t have a plan –
I took him to audition in
New York, played piano
while he sang
Put on a Happy Face,
he shook every judge’s hand
even after the ten-bar cut off.
“If they like you enough,”
he said as we left,
“they’ll change the part for you,”
like there was no such thing
as a no.
And this, I believe, sealed his fate.
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 email@example.com 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)**
Heather Newman’s work has appeared (or is upcoming) in Wisconsin Review, How To Love the World (anthology, Storey Publishing), Hanging Loose, Barrow Street 4×2, Love’s Executive Order, Hole in Head Review, The Pi Review, Right Hand Pointing, The Inquisitive Eater, Matter, and more. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School.