Stuart Dybek

The Lesson
July 22, 2011 Dybek Stuart

The Lesson


It seems to me you don’t dare express yourself
as you feel.  I’d been playing his nocturnes:
left hand, dark current; the right, submerged lights.
A velvet drape was sometimes drawn, but today he stepped
out on the balcony, above the Boulevard Poissonniere.
My friends envy the view, but not the stairs.
One could see from Montmarte to the dome of the Pantheon.
The roll of carriages carried from below.  Bells tolled
above the roofs, signaling the lesson should be over.
There was a scent of distant thunder, moving closer.
I see timidity is a kind of armor you wear.
Be bolder, let yourself go more.  He sat at the piano.
Not just the hands, the body must be supple
to the tips of the toes.  I closed my eyes.
Goethe called music the language of the inexpressible.
I had a thought the same was true of rain.
On a boulevard of umbrellas, was some passerby
gazing up bare-headed, stunned to hear amidst a shower,
the frightening beauty each keeps shut within?
My shirt appeared spotted, and when I touched my
cheeks, my fingers came away wet.  Forget
you are being listened to and always listen to yourself.
He rose and stood facing the streaked panes.  I left
an envelope with twenty francs on the mantelpiece.

Stuart Dybek’s most recent book of poems is Streets in Their Own Ink (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). His fiction includes Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, The Coast of Chicago, and I Sailed with Magellan, a novel-in-stories. Dybek’s work has won numerous awards, among them a Lannan Prize, a PEN/Malamud Award, a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Fellowship, a Rea Award for the Short Story, and numerous O. Henry Prizes. His work has also appeared in both The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Poetry.