On Scarlatti

by | Oct 9, 2017 | Special Features

Scarlatti Sonata in G Minor K 8

The dotted figures partner each other
through a room in which light
dapples motes.

The couple embraces languidly as they spin,
familiar with the arc of passion,
ardent, but not frantic—

There will be time. The left hand strums
keys like strings while a breeze
from the open casement

billows curtains. Clothing, pressing flesh, reveals
the dancers’ quickening as they move
to the final reverberation.


“An ingenious jesting with art,”

was what Scarlatti called his compositions,
555 of them, no two alike, all disobedient

to the rules of music, inviting peasant
dances and roughhousing into halls of gilt

and inlay, all done while thumbing his nose
at Mr. Oratorio, Mr. Opera—his father—

All tumbled into the world from a man
no longer young. With luck, rejection,

the lapidary roil of hurt, polishes dazzling.
Listen to their lilt, fingers dappling keys

like wind or rain the surface of a lake,
a shaking loose of light. Are his japes aimed at

or made from artistry, an ingenious declaration?
Hands rush to ripple, slow, and rest,

releasing a beauty close to anguish, what a poet called
“a hail of glistening pearls, bubbles

of watery beauty.” Downriver, we patter and
break with their sparkle, refracting bright heavens.


Scarlatti Sonata in F Minor K 466

If dying were like this, I would die often,
following the descending notes to the tideline
and watching my dusk gutter golden.

The right hand flutters doomed beauty
like a swallowtail, bloom to bloom, gathering
sweetness, alighting and rising, weightless.

The two voices touch and depart like lovers,
one at the deck rail, the other on the dock.
Hands lift and fall, regrets receding.

The notes ruffle before settling on cheek
and clavicle like locks of hair. I follow them
with my own hands to the pulse beneath.

When the melody stills, I am equally silent,
uncertain how to reinhabit this everyday body
and once again busy myself with its concerns.



Scarlatti rescued music
from the celestial,
delivering it up
for every day
like Prometheus gods’ fire.

Each melody opens
to rooms lit
by a particular light—
pale moon-clouds if night,
butter-bright if noon,

each inhabited—
perhaps by a contemplative,
or by more than one,
dancing or making love.

Each recasts the world,
evoking and suggesting
and then accompanying us
along our way.

To musicians
about to perform his works,
he wrote, Enjoy life,
secure of the snares
which still seduce.

—Devon Balwit

Devon Balwit writes in Portland, OR. She is a poetry editor for Minute Magazine and has seven chapbooks and one full-length collection out or forthcoming: How the Blessed Travel (Maverick Duck Press); Forms Most Marvelous (dancing girl press); In Front of the Elements (Grey Borders Books); Where You Were Going Never Was (Grey Borders Books); The Bow Must Bear the Brunt (Red Flag Poetry); We are Procession, Seismograph (Nixes Mate Books); Risk Being/ Complicated (self-published with the Canadian artist Lorette Luzajic). Her full-length, Motes at Play in the Halls of Light will be published by Kelsay Books in 2018. Her individual poems can be found in Cordite, The Cincinnati Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Fifth Wednesday, The Stillwater Review, Red Earth Review, The Fourth River, The Free State Review, Posit, and more.



Related Reviews