Orel Protopopescu


The Silence of the Cymbals

The young conductor poked and stirred the air with his baton,
all strings and woodwinds working hard, attuned to his commands.
I couldn’t help but wonder, as the orchestra played on,
about that useless fellow with the cymbals in his hands.

At least ten thousand notes were played before he made a sound,
which made me ponder whether he’d be paid the union rate
just like his colleagues, visibly perspiring, pound for pound,
some four or five percent of their collective body weight.

But then I thought, what sphinx-like calm! He waits and that is hard.
No twitches must defile his face. He cannot scratch his nose.
He cannot drink, go off to pee, snap fingers, drop his guard,
though what goes on inside his clothes, of course, nobody knows.

Are not his shoes as polished as a hundred other pairs?
He cannot rest from counting rests. He cannot lose his place.
He goes to all rehearsals, sitting still on hardbacked chairs.
And should he miss his moment, he would face profound disgrace.

Let others play a million notes before a piece is done.
Let lesser beings warble, spend an hour sawing wood.
He bides his time, exhausting work, until he makes just one
resounding crash. (But what a crash!) This cymbalist made good.

His cymbals kissed dramatically and not too soon or late
to make a savage impact on the climax of the score.
The cymbalist was virile, and he earned his hourly rate
so well, I hoped this master of the crash would play once more.

Alas, that was the sole display of his vast expertise,
unless you count the way his arms then slowly opened wide
right after that decisive crash had stirred a pulsing breeze
that resonated all throughout the hall before it died.

Orel Protopopescu, not new to Light, has been published in Lighten Up Online and The New Verse News, as well as paper-based reviews and anthologies. She won the Oberon poetry prize in 2010 and a commendation in the Second Light Live Competition, 2016. Her book of translations (with Siyu Liu), A Thousand Peaks, Poems from China, was honored by the NYPL. Other publications: a book for teachers of poetry, Metaphors & Similes You Can Eat; prize-winning picture books; and a chapbook, What Remains. She is currently completing work on a biography of the legendary ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq. www.orelprotopopescu.com