The Violin Concert
by Nonnie Augustine


I. Prelude
She is too young for a passionate man. I know this.
C’est vrai, Gabrielle is no longer the child I tutored in violin
when I was twenty and a stranger in Rouen. Her vivacité
kept me alive and when she sang I was a rich man.

I make as little sound as a busy rabbit or squirrel as I seek to spy
her through the trees. There, I see her! She bends to choose a windfall
apple, rubs it against her thigh, bites, spits it out in distaste and wipes
her pink lips with the hem of her apron. The fruit was too old to enjoy.

As my mare and I journey to the next town, I compose.
In concert halls like this I play her song, racing through the year
until this return to Rouen. I’ll give you Gabrielle’s music and my hope
to find her heart womanly, ready for courtship. From my violin will pour
a melody of green eyes, unpinned hair whipping in the wind, light steps
despite the weight of dark blue wool, the muslin underneath her skirt.


II. Nocturne
I seek Rouen’s best barber, converse with the clever tailor who repairs
the small tear in my brocade sleeve, then return to my inn to bathe, rest.
No longer penniless and sick with impatience for a jeune fille to turn

fifteen—I am a gentleman with time to prepare for this evening.
Après le diner I will visit Gabrielle’s mother, now widowed. I am calm,
though Madame Janvier never liked me. Also, she has no ear for music.

The innkeeper’s wife serves me cassoulet, refills my glass with tart
vin de maison, gushes with compliments— my music, my costume—
and shares town gossip. Madame Bazinet’s words become icy shards

that jab my neck, chest, loins. I am chilled, then feverish. Fury builds
until my fist pounds the table. Alors! she cries. I down my wine, leave.
That devout fool, that cold parent, has bartered with the priests, traded

her daughter’s blithe sprit for her own odious salvation and sent Gabrielle
to a cloistered convent. My lark is silenced, her bright head bowed. I finger
the neck of my instrument wishing to squeeze the neck of that mother

who buys God’s grace, abandons her child to a life of dark Catholic
devotions. The Abbess reaches into Gabrielle’s mind to squeeze, wrench,
mold. Listen to my violin. Listen. Allow melodies and minor chords

to wrap you up, take you to sweet heights, then down and down.
My bowing speaks to you, does it not? Do you ache with loss of your own?
Listen to my violin. Listen. Let there be nothing between us.

III. March
I do not accept, I do not!
    Good people of Rouen join me!
       Follow through the black trees to the fortress.
          Climb the convent walls.
             Break down the door of her cell,
                Steal my Gabrielle away from the nuns,
                   Run deep into Normandy’s great forest.
                      Make love to her with me you women, you men!

The audience stands, shouts “Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!”