PETER SCHMITT is the author of five collections of poems: Renewing the Vows, from David Robert Books; Hazard Duty, and Country Airport (Copper Beech Press); and two chapbooks, Incident in an Apartment Complex: A Suite of Voices (2009), and To Disappear, from Pudding House. He has received The Lavan Award from The Academy of American Poets; The “Discovery”/The Nation Prize; is a two-time recipient of grants from The Florida Arts Council; and was awarded a Fellowship from The Ingram Merrill Foundation. His poems have been featured several times on National Public Radio’s Writers Almanac (read by Garrison Keillor), and his poem, “Packing Plant,” won The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival open competition in Farmington, Connecticut. His work has appeared in many leading publications, including The Hudson Review, The Nation, The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Southern Review, and has been widely anthologized. He has also reviewed poetry and fiction for The South Florida Sun-Sentinel and The Miami Herald. A native Miamian and graduate with honors from Amherst College, where he studied with Richard Wilbur, and from The University of Iowa, where his teachers included Donald Justice, PETER SCHMITT has taught creative writing and literature at The University of Miami since 1986. More information on the author and his books can be found at his website, www.schmittpoetry.com. (University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences)
We stood at attention as she moved
with a kind of Groucho shuffle
down our line, her trained music
teacher’s ear passing by
our ten- and eleven-year-old mouths
open to some song now forgotten.
And as she held her momentary
pause in front of me, I peered
from the corner of my eye
to hers, and knew the truth
I had suspected.
In the following days,
as certain of our peers
disappeared at appointed hours
for the Chorus, something in me
was already closing shop.
Indeed, to this day
I still clam up
for the national anthem
in crowded stadiums, draw
disapproving alumni stares
as I smile the length of school songs,
and even hum and clap
through “Happy Birthday,” creating
a diversion—all lest I send
the collective pitch
careening headlong into dissonance.
It’s only in the choice acoustics
of shower and sealed car
that I can finally give voice
to that heart deep within me
that is pure, tonally perfect, music.
But when the water stops running
and the radio’s off, I can remember
that day in class,
when I knew for the first time
that mine would be a world of words
without melody, where refrain
means do not join,
where I’m ready to sing
in a key no one has ever heard.