Riverside Park, New York City (for Gerald Stern)
The man in the park who practices the tuba is a good neighbor. Others will sleep more soundly nights he's far away from them when practicing the tuba. His life has been a history of fugitive apartments, the limits of democracy in mumbled caveats, the artful dodge and deferential nods to hopping fits. And when the man in the park who practices the tuba sleeps, it is a good sleep, full of snores and farts and wheezes that prepare his waking day for the heavy steps of scales, the scores of Sousa scandalized. You can see him on the street when the last commuters left will shake their heads as if to say the hoisted, shrouded mass upon his back is not their burden. He hums as he walks. He always packs a dinner for two. And when the man begins to cross the street into the park, he dreams the green pedestrian within the signal lights might one day bear a tuba too and flash "hello" and "take your time," instead of red reminders of his fate to fall behind. And as he sidles slowly to the corner where he rests-- a thing the children circle, the dogs announce from curbs-- he has the patient disposition of a tortoise drawn to shell, the trickster eyes of rinpoches who work whenever still, that sit and sweep the mind's expanse, survey the ground of being and can rejoice. And when the man begins to play his tuba in the park, as he cradles in his arms-- twelve-fingered in a novice kiss-- the curved accompaniment, he escalates each pulse to pitch and feels the abrash of his skin convey its hectic sentiment to evening light: the blush of plum and zinfandel that doubles near the tucked and trembling chin; and so attends the breath that bears the body he becomes again, more confident in front of music than when facing someone dear. And when he plays, each note seems nearer to the final obligato crisis of a heart sustained by face alone-- rich and ruddy, like he would be embarrassed to die there and be found with a tuba on top of him; yet proud, as though to suddenly stand up and ply the promenade, parade in sequins of the western glare, would mean the public eschaton of his pachyderm lament could forever puff its last into eternities of brass and shade, could lift the tonnage from the tongue and speak to the flute, like a flute, but rounder. And when the man has finished practicing the tuba, when through the homeless hours of the empty park resumes the brief applause of leaf to leaf, now comes the low insomnious moans of river tugs in fog, their falling aftermaths-- a resonance attuned by chance and further complement; then from the quickened wash that chugs the water's edge and snaps for air, inferring where each scow and barge are passing as if out of time, diaphanous as memory-- a single radio succeeds above the urgencies of wind and sea, insists from somewhere nearly lost or dreamed, a dizzy jazz and misdemeanor rise to jive and swing as lips together push like birth the purest form of each unpracticed prayer.
Claude Barbre, Ph.D., L.P., is Distinguished Full Professor, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. He is the Course-Lead Coordinator of the Psychodynamics Orientation, and lead faculty in the Child and Adolescent Studies. Dr. Barbre served for 12 years as Executive Director of The Harlem Family Institute, a New York City school-based, psychoanalytic training program. Author of prize-winning articles, books, and poetry, Dr. Barbre is a five-time recipient of the International Gradiva Award for “outstanding contributions to psychoanalysis and the arts.” He is currently a Board Member and Training Supervisor at The Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis (CCP), and in private practice in Chicago.