Clair de Lune

from Claude Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque in memory of my mother

There’s D-flat major at the first and last,
but in between, a haze of harmonies
yearns lightward, though the light has long since passed.

I played the notes; she heard the light. The keys
were mine to coax and animate; their sound
was hers to claim: a shimmer of heart’s ease.

And while my fingers stretched and danced and found
their way through black and white, her ear would find
a prism—her own light parsed and unbound.

She had a knack for joy and was inclined
to wonder. Clair de lune had mesmerized
her, in a spell that left me far behind.

After my mother’s death, I was surprised
I still played it so often; I suppose
the effort occupied and organized

my sorrow-scattered mind. So in the throes
of grief, I practiced, as if I’d impress
a ghost with my devotion. And in those

half-haunted hours, I mastered more, I guess,
than just the notes. I hadn’t thought I’d learn
to hear what she did—but through some finesse

of time and skill and need, I now discern
the half-lit murmurings that no midnight
can mute, the moon-pale promise that can turn

unrest to peace, a star-sung appetite
for breath. At last I share my mother’s light.

Dr. Jean L. Kreiling is the author of three collections of poetry: Shared History (2022), Arts & Letters & Love (2018), and The Truth in Dissonance (2014). Her poems appear widely in print and online journals and in anthologies. Her work has been awarded the Rhina Espaillat Poetry Award, the Frost Farm Prize for Metrical Poetry, the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters Sonnet Prize, the Plymouth Poetry Contest prize, and the String Poet Prize, among other honors. Kreiling is professor emeritus of music at Bridgewater State University and an associate poetry editor for Able Muse: A Review of Poetry, Prose & Art. She lives on the coast of Massachusetts.

The musical inspiration for this poem, Debussy’s  “Clair de lune” may be found here