Sounds of an Afternoon: poetry

Martin Galvin


The room is intent on the pianist’s work.

Should you sneeze, the whole hall would stir

and the afternoon turn into the morning buzz

of irritated commuters and hurried young men

convinced that the mission on which they are intent

will relieve a world besieged by aches and pains.


So the sneeze, which would have brought you

dollops of pleasure and pain in equal measure

 is conquered, subdued, suppressed, pulled back

into the dark interior.  But then the itch starts,

insistent, intolerable, mysterious, and makes

you want to squirm, to rub your back the way

an old horse rubs his flank on a post.  You shift

in your seat the little that concert-goers are allowed

but that doesn’t do, only intensifies the need

the more impelling, the more it’s thought upon.

And then, like that, it’s gone.


You’ve four minutes to go before it’s done,

this haunting work you’ve come

a distance in your life to hear.  Needled

by fears your private devils will awake again

and together, a bright duet of sneeze and itch,

you do what men have done since Brahms’s time.

You go to sleep.  Discreet as a winter dawn

you fall off, as men do at important moments,

and into the music of your dream comes a snort,

wanting out. Noble swineherd. You try to cut it off


but your neighbor knows.  She can hear the snuffle

of a spirit at war with his breath.

The sound is just enough to wake the sneeze

and stir the itch, which now has multiplied

and threatens disaster whole and entire.

As anyone you know might guess, the day

does not end well.  The juddering horse

of yourself needs, more than harmony, his feed.


Originally appeared in Dogwood 2008.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close