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Disappearances (1982-84, revised 1991)





V. DESCENT (7:10)

available from the composer

duration ca. 35:00



for mezzo soprano, Bb clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), violin, cello, prepared piano,

and percussion (two players--although part I can be performed by one player only)

I. Thoughts in a Jewelry Store

Hands of watches drop intervals 
like the beginning of rain
or a quilt's continuous pattern. 
Rings flash dense light.

It was gold like this they came for
through the Ohio river valley
after my grandmother sailed 
the water-riffled sun from Germany, 
shielded her eyes from the sudden glare of America, 
to fix her husband's stern face
in our family album.

His hands gripped the shining of nails
he pounded into shoes. 
Pale shadows of children earned the sullen fruit
that lay next to Grandmother's cumulus dumplings
and pot roasts glistening with streams of oil.

A shoemaker's grandchild, 
I voyage through them, 
my integrity not more, not less, 
because the gold fell into my hands.

They have gone down into thin graves
like sunken jewelry, 
their skeletons encrusted, glinting, 
washed in the dark regions
beneath my feet.


II. After Seeing Lucia di Lammermoor

A castle drawing room lit by tenor and bass. 
A flux of voices gossip in song of Lucia, her lover. 
Candles in steady sconces trouble the deep wood 
where worms of ancestors aim for the eyes of Lucia.

Stolen letters from her lover. 
A rival battens the retina's end of Lucia's mind. 
Enrico, you arrange a political marriage of skulls.

Father, through intrigue, your words emeralds 
that glittered to her touch, 
another girl was corseted 
forced into white lace
the thin wax of her cheeks rouged 
with a mortician's skill
like Lucia's face.

Smashed dishes brittle as your voice became. 
Mother couldn't peel a potato, 
you said the spiral was all wrong.

The mad scene in our kitchen
quieter than at Ravenswood. 
No love songs, no bloody hand. 
Only Mother sleeping by the door
derringer on cracked linoleum
waiting for the asylum men.

No velvet gowned assembly, 
no Rembrandt painting to a song.

We learn of the vault, the breach in the skull, 
our torch bearers Western Union men.

III. The Witness

Blood bruises my veins as I breathe 
this difficult element, 
A shell thin air curved around the world. 
My dresser gives back the simple wood
surfacing gently from the dark. 
Dogwoods roll and boil
in a generous breeze my open window captures.

I turn to you, clothed in my smooth skin, 
and feel my breathing tighten; 
witness your face that will last in a pattern
meshed in my brain when this furniture has fallen
toward ruin.


IV. Focal Point

Ghosts cling to me this morning
close as static electricity. 
Ghosts of madness 
unsuitable as lace on a fine suede jacket.

An otherness the child listened to
and still listens to, 
the child sitting in a yellow tiled kitchen
breathing in her mother's gestures
at the immaculate counter, 
learning how enemies track
those dough-caked fingers, 
her lips thick with disguises.

She memorizes the disciplines of her mother's smile
as a lens finally focuses on raindrops in a winter tree.

A bronze wind chime rings in a hollow breeze
while the child-woman
paces my long hall.

The icemaker sounds its small jet scream.


V. Descent

Quiet as moss stars among mountains gone white
with the uneven shine of waterfalls, 
small gleams of light, 
warm crevices, 
responsible for the folds of darkness encountered. 
Laurel stakes them fast.

The disparities go on, 
parents dying into children
whose veinless hands we clutch.

We stumble, knotted ground, to the risky patter of water.

phosphorescent fungi collecting in rotten logs
an intensity like artifice (events of our estranged lives) 
marking our long dive down
to the algaed pool
where we'll throw off flesh.

Disappearances (Part I) was premiered by Janice Kestler, mezzo soprano​, and the Penn Chamber Players, conducted by Christopher Coleman, on June 6, 1982 at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Music.  Disappearances (Part II) was premiered by Jean Waller, mezzo soprano, and the University of Chicago New Music Ensemble​, Barbara Schubert, director on May 5, 1985 at the University of Chicago's Goodspeed Recital Hall.

Poetry used by permission of the author.  Although the five songs of Disappearances are meant to be sung as a cycle in its entirety, if programming requires it may be divided into parts.  Part I consists of the first three songs; Part II consists of either the last two or last three songs.  Additionally, The Witness may be performed individually.

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