Water Damage


Rosanna Warren

For Robert Schumann, and for the Schumann scholar John Daverio, who drowned in the Charles River, Cambridge, March 16, 2003.

I. The Sister

When his sister Emilie slipped into the river
 at Zwickau, the Zwickauer Mulde,
 and the brawny arm of the current pulled her under,

how do we know from just which quay
 or bridge or was it a muddy bank, was it evening or early light, did she leap or slide, did

the water smack and fracture or only lisp
 She was nineteen She had sore and scabbing skin She had typhus She was (they say) melancholic Her

heavy skirts must have folded her in robes of water like a royal cloak a new and heavy employment The river kept its secrets and still does, itching itself

along the city stone embankments, but suddenly light catches an errant surge, an eddy
 has second thoughts at the edge like the violin

in a piano trio and we’re off in a different direction and we won’t know, we can’t know how
 she fell or what her young brother Robert felt, for all

is smeared and the ink runs off into pools of aquarelle The family letters “suffered water damage”
 in the fire-bombing of Dresden Fire and water married

Stories fled Chords dissolved What happened that day when Emilie lost her tune I have looked
 long at my North American river the Charles I have

watched it freeze unfreeze shiver from one light into another
 It keeps crawling and shrugging its shoulders You might as well ask the dead for letters of recommendation

as ask the Mulde where in its archive Emilie could be found

II. Eusebius

“A sheet of music was for Schubert what for others was a diary.” —Robert Schumann

This morning the Charles is a shocked metal blue, reflective as sheets of stainless steel or a gun barrel, by afternoon
 it dims to pewter, then tarnished twilight, chafed

silver just before night closes in
 If it’s a letter to whom is it addressed The sculls carve the surface in perishable script

If it’s a diary what does it record

It erases more than it preserves, a secret writing The cars streak along its banks on Storrow Drive The river tongues its numbed and swollen banks Maybe it’s trying to speak not write
 Commuted sentences To whom do we turn now

The shadow man who went for a stroll Sunday at dusk carried no wallet The security camera caught him stepping out, a blur How do we know

He carried music in his pulse He didn’t need identification He didn’t have
 identification four weeks later as a cadaver bobbing up

by the oars of the skimming scull You wouldn’t have known How do we know from just which bridge or quay
 or was it a muddy bank and how

and why does the same theme
 keep sloshing back but always in different lights: “Home at 3 a.m.: excited night with Schubert’s immortal trio ringing in my ear—

frightful dreams,” wrote Robert Schumann, young, a student of law— (“Robert Schumann hated rules”) The shadow man
 never returned from that Sunday stroll

Here it’s solo piano, tremolo water
 a trickle gathering to a stream as Eusebius, the sad one, wraps the drowned man in a heavy mantle of sound

III. Entrails

Sleight of heart and no way to return home
 with father long dead, the mother weak and grieving
 at his champagne nights, while the cigar-pulling machine to strengthen his fingers

cripples his right hand, tortures the tendons (What will we not do to master the art) Robert plays the piano in a cigar smoke cloud

The hurt fingers lapsing, skid from the keys
 A music of fragments and secret signs
 Love drives the cryptographs, spirochetes ride the blood

You take the beloved’s initials or the initials of her town and set them as musical notes There’s a melody there and it prances and strays but wants to return home

In a cloud of cigar smoke, his fantasy friends draw near (“Florestan has become the friend of my heart, he shall be my true self in the story”) How to return

His brother dies and his brother’s wife TB and malaria in a pas de deux
 Music is return Music is bits and pieces

Music is Venus Music is Mercury dosed in tinctures Music splinters and wants to return
 but has lost its way in a black and white forest guarded by sphinxes

The hand curls up in pain on the ivories
 “Fear Loss of breath Fainting Melancholia” “Find yourself a woman She’ll cure you in a flash”

“Place the injured hand” says Dr. Kuhl “in the entrails of a slaughtered animal” Or “soak it in brandy” Only Clara’s hands could interpret his

Only Clara traced the carnival in his palm
 Clara released the butterflies from his spasm
 Clara led him farther back than the memory of home

IV. The Rhine

As if the Charles were tributary to the Rhine
 one life flows into another through long study and acts of love and the scholar’s notes harmonize with notes in the score

until the scholar slips into a watery unison inaudible to the human ear
 and I lose him there “Music cut into my nerves

like knives,” wrote Robert Schumann in Dresden, fearing death, revolution, tall buildings, and noise in the street
 Old acts of love from the past flow back

as tertiary syphilis (“Christel, or Charitas,” in the diary from the old champagne and malaria days)
 The Davidsbündlertänze froth up for Clara from Florestan

and Eusebius “There are many wedding thoughts in the dances I will explain them to you”
 “Play my Kreisleriana often A positively wild love

is in them, and your life, and mine, and the way you look” I take notes on the children born and Emil who dies
 and Clara’s miscarriage after their idyll on the Rhine

I note revolution in Dresden, the move to Düsseldorf
 I note the shuffle from apartment to apartment to escape the din My notes harmonize with noise in the streets

“Unusual aural disturbances” The thrust of the mightiest river Rheumatism, convulsive coughing, another trip down the Rhine Bathe daily in the Rhine

Do not bathe daily in the Charles
 Music rises beyond the shouts and clatter in the thoroughfares beyond revolution and the fear of death

My eyes ache from trying to see through that sunday twilight how the scholar fell “Continually sounding pitches in the ear,” reports Robert, “a distant wind band”

He dreamed a new Davidsbünd, a fellowship of souls
 The scholar was inducted honorary fellow in the deepest river invisible in mud and weeds and yellow scum along the banks

Aural disturbances a “theme dictated by the angels” but next morning by demons, tigers, hyenas
 Acts of love return as notes He left his handkerchief

as a pledge at the toll on the Rhine and leapt from the bridge “Frei aber einsam” Robert transcribed Joachim the violinist’s motto Free but lonely

Fishermen hauled him out, carnival jokers brought him home Frightful dreams The shadow man
 never returned from that stroll The asylum at Bonn

What did happen that day How do we know
 He composed in fragments “Don’t forget me”
 He burned her letters He was obsessed with maps

The sculls trace secret writing in the currents on the Charles My hands are stained
 she sat by his bed for two days as pneumonia hauled him off

“There is invisible writing” he wrote to Joachim,
 “which will appear later I will close now It’s growing dark” The mightiest river does not flow on earth

nor the mightiest music in the human ear