Notes on Clara Schumann Visiting Johannes Brahms’ Family

By hand he leads me to 60 Speckstrasse
an apartment the south side of Hamburg,
the two small rooms where he grew up.

The sidewalk dusts our shoes
as we approach his grieving building
its broken shutters and peeled paint.

Johannes mumbles a blur
of apology and haste.
Tangled curtains on the first floor quiver,
his parents are waiting for us.

Dear friends he and I have become
the old bitterness fallen like buttons
from coats, worn and lost
some place in our paths.
Now the intimate du in our letters
the chords in his sonatas
breathing in, then out, again.

Ahead, he opens the iron gate
where children in the courtyard
stop their game of balls and sticks. Their faces curious and shy,
smudges of dirt on their chins.

And Johannes’ own visage,
gruff and covered with blond beard
as sincere as the porch’s
four crooked steps

where the bottom plank is cracked and sullen
a split lip in the wooden middle
its brokenness not unlike longing.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Notes on Clara Schumann Visiting Johannes Brahms’ Family”?

I had been reading the biographies of the Romantic composers. Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms had a very close friendship. I began to imagine small moments of their life together.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Notes on Clara Schumann Visiting Johannes Brahms’ Family”?

Allusion, internal rhyme, indented spacing.

This poem “Notes on Clara Schumann Visiting Johannes Brahms’ Family” originally appeared in Women & the Politics of Memory. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 186 (Autumn 2005): 68-69.

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