Discover more from a body of words
Poem for the Left Hand
for Tomas Tranströmer and his music
First, the thumb, yours, tumbled, trembling as if trapped in a thimble, poised over your notes, purposeful, direct, now waiting for the heart beating in your wooden chest to stop its fluttery shiver, knowing the approaching stroke will strike right at the voice, down on the crossing, and in this, your box, but not to silence it, only to deepen the lines. The bar line raises itself: noble, able, unclenched, palpable; like an old melody buried in the rhythm of rests.
(“Poem for the Left Hand.” Afterness: Literature From The New Transnational Asia, 2016, p. 24, After Party Press.)
Tomas is playing the piano with his left hand as he sits in his wheelchair with his right hand curled up like a broken wing. He’s in his Stockholm apartment. As his piano speaks for him, we also hear a recording of a younger Tomas reading one of his most famous poems, “Allegro.”
This is his last public performance before he passed away a few weeks later in March, 2015.
It moved me deeply.
Tomas Gösta Tranströmer is a Swedish poet who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 80.
I had never heard of Tomas Tranströmer until his passing made global headlines.
Tomas started to play the piano and write poetry around the same time in his youth. He continued to play the piano with only his left hand after a stroke in 1990 left him unable to speak much and unable to use his right hand at all.
He continued to write poetry.
Feeling curious, I googled piano music written for and played by the left hand. There is so much piano music for just one hand I soon felt overwhelmed.
I was fascinated and inspired.
Tomas Tranströmer and the music of his left hand and his enigmatic poetry had such an effect on me that I had to try and express it in my own body of words.
“Poem for the Left Hand” is for Tomas and the music of his poetry as his work lives on in my ears and my heart.
Tomas Tranströmer Interview: "The Music Says Freedom Exists" (YouTube video) on the Louisiana Channel that inspired my poem. It’s under two minutes long and is well worth a listen.
Five Poems by Tomas Tranströmer (Nobel Prize Website).
UCLA Uncut: Ross Shideler on Tomas Tranströmer (8-minute video).
Tomas Tranströmer obituary on The Guardian (2015).
Thanks for reading.