Joy Katz

The Composer

In the café, a composer sits with a manuscript of sheet music. I can
tell he is serious. I know he will be quiet. I take the table next to his.

Then I am hungry for the notes, clear as crows in winter; the staves
are a track I passed over in winter. No words, high over fields,
looking out a cold dot of window. Ice and solitude and silence.

My mother married my father, and not the others, because he liked
“serious music.” Meaning he was not listening to Johnny Mercer, or
Louis Prima, or calypso with rum-and-cokes, in 1946. They would
have listened to Benjamin Britten. Peter Grimes opened the week they
got engaged in New York. My father had taken a different girl,
beautiful, wealthy, to the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. He
purposely bought the cheapest, highest seats, testing her seriousness
about the music. She complained that they weren’t in the loge; wasn’t
he serious about her? Instead he proposed to my mother.

The composer inks a whole note. Pauses. Flexes his wrist. I have a
few minutes left to write. The cellos swim briskly; the room fills with
the deep health of cellos. My coffee tastes like Prague, from a fire in a

My mother said living with my father was like living alone. She liked
to dance. He seldom spoke. No flights of fancy. She might have been
happier with someone who played in a big band. Flirting at night with
her clarinetist; serious with Beethoven in the mornings, alone with the

There is no crescendo, no end of the poem. My mother is dead. My
father is with a woman who likes flamenco. The girl who makes coffee
rinses out the sink: sound of water, hollow metal. The composer packs
up his music. At the door, he is still moving his arm, conducting.

Joy Katz
“The Composer” first appeared in Boulevard, Spring 2011.